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Caution against "blanket bans" on care home visitors

Caution against

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Caution against "blanket bans" on care home visitors


The CEO of a mental health advocacy charity is calling for care homes to make sure they can still accept visitors.

My Voice Jersey CEO Patricia Winchester has been urging the Government over the last few months to issue guidelines to prevent “blanket bans” in homes.

Though she said that her initial response from the Government was that, as care homes were private sector, they were not their responsibility, she pointed out to them that as some homes were commissioned by Government, they therefore held some accountability.

Patricia then had a meeting with Government officials and advisers - including Deputy Medical Officer for Health, Dr Ivan Muscat - on 23 September, in which she outlined her concerns and the potential legal ramifications of issuing blanket bans on visiting.

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Pictured: The CEO of My Voice Jersey is seeking to ensure that care home residents can still see their families and not be isolated through the winter period.

Her latest comments come after she received information that LV’s homes would be the most recent of a number of care homes in the island to close their doors to visitors, having put the closure in action yesterday.

In an e-mail to Government health officials on Saturday evening, Patricia asked: “Where are the individual risk assessments? Who has been involved in the individual needs assessments? Where are the individual care plans? Which social workers or care co-ordinators have been consulted?"

She further emphasised that "all steps need to be taken to maximise the possibility of elderly dementia residents to be supported to maintain as far as possible their private and family lives."

"As far as I am aware not even a bare minimum provision is in place for visitors to see relatives through a glass pod, or a window," she said.

Elaborating further to Express, she added that it needed to be the responsibility of care homes to provide a means of residents seeing their families rather than a simple blanket ban, pointing to the recent U-turn from UK Health Minister Matt Hancock in September, when a series of guidelines were instated for care homes to provide visits in a safe environment.

She summed up “that whilst covid presents an immense risk, nevertheless the private and family lives of our most vulnerable islanders must be respected and lawfully protected.”

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Pictured: The Government has said it wants to seek a balance between the risk of infection and the risk of social isolation for those classified as high risk.

In response to queries from Express about the precautions, LV said: "We have set an initial ‘closure’ period of two weeks across all LV Care Group homes in Jersey because in the coming weeks we expect to have available to us new antigen tests which will enable any visitor to our homes to be tested for covid-19 and receive a result within 15 minutes.

“Working in partnership with our pharmacy, LV Pharmacy, we will be able to test residents, carers, nursing staff and the families of residents every week, and possibly more frequently.

“It is important to us that we are doing everything we can to keep our residents safe and taking every step we can to enable them to have as much access to their family members as possible. Some of our homes have ‘contact visitor booths’ installed, which residents and families will be able to use throughout the next two weeks.

"This increased testing regime within our homes, combined with the likelihood of a first vaccine becoming available in December, will further enable us to manage risk more effectively. If the majority of our residents have been vaccinated the risk will be much diminished.

"We are intensely aware that these temporary measures will be difficult emotionally for both residents and their loved ones and our teams will be focused on keeping everyone’s spirits up.  It is our opinion that this course of action is more bearable than the potential risk of “in room isolating” that all homes were forced to introduce at some times during the initial covid-19 wave.

“We monitor the mental health and wellbeing of our residents closely on an ongoing basis, speak regularly to family members and are taking steps to manage the risk to our residents‘ mental health as effectively as we can."

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Pictured: LV said in a statement they expect antigen tests will assist in reopening, although they could not provide a precise re-opening date at this time.

The manager of Clifton Care Homes, which has already closed itself off to visitors in the past month, and is now planning to open up again next week, also stated that their closure was a necessary step to keep residents safe.

Anand Tewari told Express how they stopped visitors on 19 October as part of a “contingency plan” following a spike in cases in mid-October. The care home houses patients who would be categorised as “very vulnerable,” including residents on 24 hour life support.

Talking about the decision, he said: “If you look at what happened in the UK and also around Europe during the first wave, it’s very scary that care homes were wiped out."

According to the Office for National Statistics, between 2 March and 20 June, 29.3% (19,394 people) of all care home deaths in the UK were linked to covid-19. In Jersey, almost half of deaths happened in residential care settings: 14 in local care homes, and three in St. Saviour's Hospital.

Explaining the provisions that had been put in place to help residents, Anand said that Clifton had been in communication with all families about the changes, and that regular contact had been kept over telephone and WhatsApp.

The home also has rooms facing the gardens, where families could come and talk through the windows, and a limited number residents have more recently been able to go home.

Anand added that he understood the concerns around closing off the homes, but that, even with “all good intentions, infection control and hand washing” that “once the virus is able to come in, it would be very difficult to control it.”

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Pictured: CEO of My Voice, Patricia Winchester.

Yesterday the Government announced that testing will be rolled out to care home residents and visitors, with the latter tested on a similar schedule to staff.

Given the impact the measures are likely to have on businesses, a new ‘taskforce’ of senior Government officers led by Customer and Local Services Director General Ian Burns has been established to come up with remedies – including economic ones – for specific workforce concerns in the coming days and weeks.

Incentivising care workers not to work across more than one care home in a bid to stop covid from entering and circulating multiple homes and residential facilities will be among the problems they’ll be tasked with solving. 

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