The Lincolnshire Care Association, which represents care providers in the county has responded to news that campaigners are challenging the legality of the latest government guidance which leaves it up to individual care homes to decide whether visits by loved-ones is allowed during Covid-19.
This guidance, issued by the Department of Health and Social Care, recommended that care homes create their own visitor policies to best protect their residents. Many care homes chose to stop visits and go into lockdown, to prevent the spread of Covid-19 throughout their vulnerable population.
Although shielding of vulnerable and older people has officially been relaxed, some have continued to keep the ruling in place, especially as the infection rate in England has crept back above 1 in a surge of new cases in the country since the beginning of September.
Relatives backing John’s Campaign, which supports families of those with dementia, claim that the lockdown of care homes is a human rights violation, arguing that residents with dementia have been disproportionately impacted by the no-visitor rule.
John’s Campaign have launched legal action to force the government to allow care home visits in England and written a letter to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock challenging the current coronavirus guidance which they claim has allowed care homes to implement blanket bans on visitors, regardless of a resident’s situation.
The charity believes lack of contact is contributing to deterioration of many care home residents and say relatives should be designated “key workers” to be allowed access to visit family members.
If Mr Hancock does not change the guidance, campaigners plan to crowdfund for a judicial review.
Chairman of the Lincolnshire Care Association, Melanie Weatherley, said protecting residents from Covid-19 while preventing loneliness and keeping their mental health in check is a delicate balance, and they understand the situation will be more difficult once the winter starts.
She said: “We’re neutral towards the legal challenge. LinCA understands the difficulties, but care homes need to follow the guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care. It’s a dilemma, trying to balance the mental wellbeing of residents and their physical health, as well as trying to balance the right to life of one resident against another, who are at different levels of risk from the virus.
“We understand the distress of dementia sufferers and their loved ones during this difficult time, and it’s not easy for care homes and their staff who want nothing more than for their residents to see their families.”
But she commented that the challenge has come at “both the wrong and the right time”.
“If we go into lockdown for a second time, it will be even more difficult for care homes to safely allow visitors. Instead of trying to fight the guidance, the time would be better spent on finding a safe solution.
“We’re working with the Professor Derek Ward, Director of Health at Lincolnshire County Council to find the best way to maintain contact between residents and their families, while still keeping them safe from the virus. We need to make sure Covid-19 stays out of care homes and not let it back in the door.”
She added: “Since the outbreak began, Lincolnshire care homes have done everything they can to comply with the legal guidelines and keep their residents safe. They have been incredibly innovative during the pandemic and deserve more credit for all they have done to keep their residents’ spirits up during this difficult time.”
She said staff, such as those at Ashdene Care Home in Sleaford, have gone “above and beyond” to ensure contact with loved ones, but also ensuring that they are never bored or lonely.
Jilly Hunt, Manager of Ashdene Care Home, said: “There have been plenty of WhatsApp, Facetime and Messenger calls, but we’ve also had plenty going on at the home during lockdown. So much so, we’ve created a private Facebook page to keep the relatives of residents updated.
“For VE Day, we had a party where the staff dressed up in 1940s clothes, including vintage hairstyles and red ‘lippy’, while we streamed VE Day concerts.
“We’ve been planting sunflowers and strawberries for the residents to eat. We’ve been video calling a school in Sheffield, where the children have been chatting, singing and reading stories to our residents. We’ve even had a Grease sing along!
“It really annoys me that everyone is being so negative. We’ve been doing the best we can, and the relatives of our service users have been so supportive.”