Isolation in the Age of Omicron – How the Rules have Changed for Care Homes

After pleas from the adult social care sector, the government has finally reduced the restrictions which ban new admissions and visitors in care homes after a Covid-19 outbreak from 28 days to 14 days. While there may be concerns about the safety of residents in care homes due to the contagious nature of the Omicron variant, it appears that these may be overly cautious. Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said, “The Omicron virus is affecting over a third of care homes, but there are encouraging signs from the data that the impact of this new variant is not as severe as in the previous waves of the pandemic.” This couldn’t come at a more crucial time as the NHS faces pressures amidst the Omicron outbreak.

Around two weeks ago, about 10,000 patients a day were medically fit to be discharged but kept in hospitals due to the 28 day isolation rule. It is also currently estimated that 63% of care homes are experiencing an “outbreak,” which is defined as two or more cases. MHA chief executive Sam Monaghan said, “We are in a situation again where, for prolonged periods at a time, older people living in care homes across the country are unable to have visits with their family and friends.” Further, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS providers said that hospitals reported delayed discharges were significantly adding to pressures. Hopefully the 14 day ban on admission will help to free up beds and alleviate mounting pressures on the NHS while also increasing the quality of life for residents in care homes by reducing disruptions to their freedom to have visitors.

These new rules are paramount in light of the new isolation rules for those who test positive for Covid-19. According to government guidance, individuals who are isolating may end their isolation early if they receive a negative LFD test on day 6 and day 7 of their isolation period. Echoing Sam Monahan’s concerns, we see vulnerable groups, particularly those in adult social care, with greater restrictions on their freedoms.

Whether or not these measures are fair and go far enough to balance the heightened risks associated with Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes and the overall mental and emotional well-being of residents is another matter. There will be lots of arguments for both sides, but what providers can be assured of is that the protection of the health and well-being of their residents must always be at the forefront of any policy, especially when it limits the freedom of their residents.

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