A social care leader has warned there is no “automatic right” for indoor visits to care homes for relatives and friends of residents.
Mario Kreft, the chair of Care Forum Wales, spoke out to set the record straight about the relaxation of the restrictions announced today by the Welsh Government. It was clear, he said, there was a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion around the issue.
While indoor visits where now permitted, they would only be allowed at the discretion of the care homes who had the right to make the final decision, after taking into account a whole range of factors including local circumstances, he said.
According to Mr Kreft, protecting the health and safety of vulnerable residents and staff would always be the “first and absolute” priority of care homes in considering requests for indoor visits.
Every request would be subjected to a rigorous risk assessment and any visits would have to be undertaken with great caution.
Mr Kreft said: “Quite rightly, care homes are taking an extremely cautious approach to any indoor visits.
“The lifting of the blanket restrictions by the Welsh Government does not give the green light to an open door policy for visitors. It is important to stress this is not an instruction to care homes to allow indoor visits.
“The new policy allows visits under very strict conditions at the discretion of the care homes concerned. Indoor visiting can only happen if it can be achieved safely.
“We still have to take into account all the relevant health and safety legislation and employment law because the safety and wellbeing of our residents and staff is our paramount concern. There is an overriding legal responsibility on all providers to ensure to protect them.
“Every setting is different, and each request will have to been considered individually with a rigorous risk assessment carried out.
“When they happen the message from the Welsh Government about how tightly indoor visits are controlled is very clear and leaves the ultimate decision as to whether they go ahead to the care home concerned.
“Over the last six months providers have come up with a whole host of innovative ways of reuniting residents with their families and friends, with outdoor visits and the use of technology which has been invaluable.
“When they happen, indoor visits are also likely to be staff intensive so they will be limited and visits that can be conducted outdoors will continue to be done there.
“Providers will continue to work hard to ensure that it is possible to stay in touch with loved ones because this is important in so many ways.
“Care homes across Wales and the wonderful staff who work in them have done a remarkable job in shielding social care and saving lives and this will remain as our number one priority.”
His comments came after Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething announced that indoor visits to adult and children’s care homes have been given the green light to resume today, one day earlier than previously announced.
He said however that the reopening date was a guide and it is for each institution to determine exactly when they would be able to begin safely facilitating visits again.
Care home visits stopped when the lockdown began on 23 March. Since 16 June, outdoor visits to care homes have been allowed.
“This confirmation will be a very welcome announcement for so many across Wales,” Vaughan Gething said.
“Limiting access to care homes has been wholly necessary to protect some of our most vulnerable in our communities from the harms of COVID-19 but we fully appreciate the impact this has had on residents and their loved ones.
“Given the benefits to resident’s well-being, I hope that many homes can quickly update their procedures to enable indoor visits to take place safely. However, I do appreciate the anxiety that some providers will have about this significant change, and that some may need a little longer to put in place arrangements.
“I would urge family and friends to please be patient and understanding as homes begin to work through the logistics to facilitating indoor visits once again.”
Tomorrow’s change in regulations also applies to hospices and secure accommodation for children and young people.