Care home residents will be able to join family and friends over Christmas - but is it safe?

Care home residents in England will be able to spend Christmas with family or friends, in line with the government’s Christmas bubbles policy, according to The Times.

This is despite earlier guidance stating that only those under 65 would be eligible.

Under the policy, people all over the UK will be able to form Christmas bubbles of up to three households between 23 and 27 December, with whom they can then socialise without following social distancing.

While the government’s initial guidance stated that Christmas bubbles would not apply to older care home residents, the Cabinet Office has now confirmed that they will be able “to take advantage, legally, of the regulations that permit people to form a Christmas bubble”.

What was the previous guidance?

As per the most recent official guidance, only those care home residents of working age are able to take part in the Christmas bubbles policy, with under 65s allowed to only join with one other household, rather than two.

However the government has confirmed that it will update the guidance to reflect the policy on elderly care home residents.

Though care home residents will legally be able to join Christmas bubbles, the government is still strongly advising people to minimise contact with at-risk relatives and friends.

The Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) current guidance states: “Spending time with others outside the care home will increase risk of exposure to coronavirus for the resident and the other residents in their home on their return, and is likely to place an additional burden on the care home. Given this, visits out of care homes should only be considered for residents of working age.”

“Residents, their families and care homes should very carefully consider whether this is the right thing to do or whether visiting at the care home would provide contact in a safer way.”

What does this mean for care home residents?

The change means that the law will not prohibit older care home residents from joining Christmas bubbles, though there are concerns that a lack of clarity could lead to issues.

The government is also being urged to extend current plans to bring rapid testing to care homes, allowing more visits.

Speaking to the Times, Gavin Terry of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It would be useful to have clearer guidance from government for families and care homes, to help them navigate potentially tricky conversations between care homes and families about whether people can leave safely for Christmas.

“With the pilot for testing of visitors finishing in a few weeks, we need all hands to the pump to get testing rolled out across the country, and people with dementia reunited with the people they love.”