Care home residents are set to be limited to three visitors plus an essential care giver under new COVID-19 guidance announced by the government. The definition of an essential care giver is stated on the government’s website as an individual who visits more often, to support the resident’s health and wellbeing. This could include a companion or somebody they have a personal relationship with such as family. Essential care givers are still allowed to continue to visit during periods of isolation or when there is an outbreak.
These newly implemented measures are in direct response to the emergence of the Omicron variant in the UK, and to limit any potential threat it poses until booster vaccination status is achieved to maximise protection.
In addition, the government announced an investment of £300m into a recruitment and retention fund for bonuses in an effort to combat the existing care home recruitment crisis. This has also enabled the government and the social sector to bring forward pay rises for care stuff, allowing them to adequately fund overtime with the aim to increase and maintain workforce numbers up until the end of March.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said:
“Throughout the pandemic we have done everything we can to protect the adult social care sector, and the emergence of the Omicron variant means this more important than ever. This new funding will support our incredible workforce by recruiting new staff and rewarding those who have done so much during this pandemic. Boosting the booster rollout in social care and updating the visiting guidance will help keep the most vulnerable people in our society safe from the virus this winter.”
In response to the emerging spread of the Omicron variant as it hits the UK, specialist vaccination teams are being deployed to all care home residents and staff. Care homes will also be able to request follow up booster visits from vaccination teams for staff and residents. Over 70% of older care home residents have already received a booster jab and 97% of homes have been visited by vaccination teams with the remainder expected to shortly receive visits. However, this is in contrast to only 30% of staff in care homes having received the booster, who come into contact and critically support the older people in homes.
Staff testing is now increasing from two lateral flow tests per week up to three, as well as including a weekly PCR test. Fully vaccinate residents visiting out will be asked to take a lateral flow test on alternative days for two weeks after a visit. Those not fully vaccinated will be expected to isolate following a visit out of the home.
Whilst welcoming the £300m additional funding and expansion of the booster programme, the National Care Forum (NCF) have expressed concerns about new restrictions on care home visits.
CEO Vic Rayner OBE said:
“New guidance issued by the government must take very seriously the potential restrictions on individuals living within care homes. It must not disproportionately limit access to family and friends, both within and outside of the home, whilst the rest of society continues to be encouraged to party and mingle without consequence.”