The DHSC has published updated guidance on visiting care homes

On 22 March 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care (“DHSC”) amended its guidance on visiting care homes in England. The guidance titled ‘Guidance on care home visiting’ applies to all residential care homes and replaces previous guidance. The latest guidance reduces the amount of time that care homes need to implement outbreak management measures. Currently, care homes are required to implement outbreak management measures if they have two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19, or clinically suspected cases of COVID-19, among people in the same setting with the onset of symptoms occurring within the same ten day period. It was previously fourteen days but it is now reduced to just ten days. This amendment is made in conjunction with the Government’s overall stance, which is to continue to ease restrictions relating to COVID-19 and to learn to live with it.

Management of an outbreak of COVID-19 in a care home

If a care home experiences an outbreak of COVID-19, it is then subject to outbreak management guidance. The guidance advises that in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 in a care home, the home should restrict visiting arrangements and suspend indoor visiting except in exceptional circumstances such as end of life visits or if the person is an  ‘essential care giver’. An essential care giver is somebody who the resident may have an existing personal relationship with prior to admission. The aim is for the resident to gain additional companionship, care and support. Their role is to support resident’s health and well-being, including in periods of outbreaks of COVID-19.

What has changed for care home providers?

As stated above, the amount of time that care homes are required to implement outbreak management measures has been reduced from fourteen days to ten days. However, subject to a risk assessment from a care home’s local  Health Protection Team (“HPT”) outbreak management  restrictions may only need to be in place for  seven days. This is conditional on there being two sets of PCR tests on residents and staff being returned clear with no positive COVID-19 test results. Therefore, satisfying the risk assessment criteria assessed by the HPT. The current risk assessment criteria that the HPT has regard to is considering the impact of the outbreak and capability of a care home to facilitate window or other visits without cohorting or grouping residents and staff. This will allow and facilitate a continuation of visiting in some capacity, which is vital for residents’ well-being.

What happens when a care home experiences an outbreak of COVID-19?

When a care home is classified as experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19, all movement within a care home should be minimised as per the guidance. Furthermore, other methods of contact between residents and family members should still be encouraged in alternative means such as:

  • visits in well-ventilated spaces with substantial screens, visiting pods or from behind windows
  • telephone calls
  • video calls
  • newsletters
  • emails, letters, cards or photographs

It is important to note that outbreak management measures will be required to be in place for different lengths of time, depending on the individual circumstances of each care home. For example, if PCR tests return a negative test result for COVID-19 in both sets of PCR tests and the HPT criteria is met, outbreak management restrictions could only be needed for seven days. Whereas, if PCR tests return with a positive COVID-19 test result or the HPT criteria is not met, restrictions would need to remain in place for  10 days since the onset of symptoms of the latest case of COVID-19  within that care home.

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