Care homes have called for Covid outbreak criteria to be changed, as residents are denied visitors for up to a month because of just two cases.
Government guidance states an outbreak in a home is defined as “two or more confirmed cases of Covid-19”. Local health protection teams can advise closing a home to further admissions and visitors for 14 days. During that 14 days, if another positive case is identified, the shutdown could be extended for another two weeks.
But if an omicron case is first identified, restrictions should remain in place for 28 days until the whole home is tested and no new cases are detected.
Care homes ‘should be given a lot more latitude’
Care providers said the criteria were too strict and the wellbeing of patients was not being met when they were denied visitors.
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “As with the NHS, the care sector – whose workforce is a similar size to that of the NHS – is facing enormous pressures at the moment.
“It may well be time for the Government to review its guidance around an outbreak in terms of definition and procedures around closure, in order to ensure that best quality care and protection for residents, staff and relatives.”
Paul De Savary, who runs 11 homes for adults with complex needs, said four of his homes were currently in lockdown due to outbreaks, with two now closed for 18 days.
The mental health of his residents was impacted when their home was locked down and their routines constantly changed, he said.
“Telling somebody with autism that they can’t go out…just really causes a massive issue,” he said.
“When it comes to learning disabilities, it should be left to the provider. They should be given a lot more latitude as to what they do.”
Families’ despair and not being able to see loved ones
Families with loved ones in elderly care homes have also shared their distress over being separated from their relatives due to outbreak rules.
“My nan’s care home is closed to visitors once again. We haven’t been allowed in since New Year’s Eve. Help me understand why we have to test before we go in?” one person wrote on Twitter.
Another wrote: “Brilliant – my mum’s care home closed for at least 28 days to visits apart from end of life care as they’ve got omicron cases in the dementia ward. Just as my mum was getting some of her social skills back.”
Nadra Ahmed, executive chairman of the National Care Association, said some homes are also being forced to take the decision to stop family visits, due to staff shortages.
“Wherever possible, providers are trying to facilitate the visits where they can. But their primary responsibilities are to the residents, making sure that all their needs are being met,” she said.
“And I think this is very difficult because wellbeing is one of those needs. To enable people to come into the service should be one of those needs being met.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are doing everything we can to support care providers to facilitate safe visits and guidance was changed to allow each resident to have three listed visitors, as well as an essential care giver, either a family member or friend, who may visit the home to offer companionship or help with care needs.
“Essential care givers should be able to visit inside the care home, even during periods of outbreak.
“We are also providing an extra £60 million to support adult social care over January 2022 to keep people safe and prevent outbreaks, on top of the £388 million infection control and testing fund to prevent infections and provide testing in the care sector.”
The UK Health Security Agency was also approached for comment.