Sunday, August 7, 2022

Families facing ‘postcode lottery’ of care home Covid ‘lockdown’ rules

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Families are still facing a “zip code lottery” of Covid restrictions in care homes, with some being forced to wear masks and see loved ones through plexiglass screens, despite official rules having been relaxed.

Visits should be unrestricted unless there is a Covid outbreak in a home, when residents are “allowed to have one visitor at a time”, according to Care Quality Commission (CQC) guidance.

However, some properties still impose additional restrictions, leaving families at the mercy of individual providers.

A man who spoke LatestPageNews is only allowed to see his elderly father through a plexiglass screen for 30 minutes on condition of anonymity because of a Covid case at his Shropshire care home. When the house doesn’t have an outbreak, he can see his father in a conservatory if he has a negative lateral flow test and is wearing a mask. Visits to the main house are not permitted.

“Initially I was happy with the arrangements,” he said, referring to the home’s restrictions during the peak of Covid, “but two and a half years later we’re going to have to learn to live with it at some point. Visiting behind a piece of plastic does not mean learning to live with Covid.”

Wearing a mask is also difficult, as it takes five to 10 minutes for his father to recognize him, the man said. “He has dementia and it’s not fair to him. Standing behind a piece of plastic on a porch for just half an hour makes it very difficult to get any kind of conversation going.”

The number of incidents classified as suspected Covid outbreaks with at least one associated positive case in care homes has risen steadily over the past month.

According to the latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), 330 Covid incidents were recorded in care homes in the week of 11 July to 17 July 2022.

That was an increase of 164 from June 13-19, followed by 211 cases the following week and 312 the week after. Although 330 incidents is the highest number in six months, it is down from the Covid peak from last Christmas, when 549 incidents were recorded in care homes.

Diane Mayhew, co-founder of campaign group Rights for Residents, said many of England’s 17,600 care homes are refusing to lift restrictions even as government guidelines have been eased.

“Over a year since all Covid restrictions were lifted for everyone living in the community, many of those living in care facilities are still subject to strict visiting restrictions. Many nursing homes have embraced relaxed visiting guidance, but many nursing homes are refusing to lift restrictions and enacting their own rules that bear no resemblance to official guidelines.

“We still have a zip code lottery, with some households choosing the parts of the guidance they want to follow, others not following the guidance at all, and others following the guidelines to the letter,” she said.

In some cases, residents have been served with eviction notices in response to their family members challenging restrictions, Ms Mayhew said.

“The CQC does not investigate individual cases, leaving families with no one-stop shop if they are denied contact with loved ones and have lost confidence in the regulator’s ability to act,” she added.

A woman in her 50s whose 80-year-old father lives in a care home in Derbyshire told the story LatestPageNews: “How long will nursing home residents be treated as subordinate members of society?”

The daughter, who declined to give her name for fear of repercussions from the home, said she was not allowed to visit her father amid a Covid outbreak until this Tuesday. Only her mother was allowed to visit her as a designated visitor. She challenged the house, saying council and government guidelines require one visitor each, rather than one visitor overall.

The home has since updated its rules but only allows one family member per day. She accused the home of “scaremongering” with its emails to families urging them not to go to the theater or concerts before visiting the home for fear of contagion.

Masks are still mandatory during visits. “As of May of this year, my father hadn’t seen the faces of our families in two years,” the woman said. “If we get close enough to him, he tries to take our masks off because he doesn’t like them. We were allowed to remove our masks when he was dying, but now we have to wear them all the time again.”

Linda’s 87-year-old mother lives in a nursing home in Stockton-on-Tees. Linda, 65, tells LatestPageNews: “I just think it’s amazing that we still have locked doors, whereas before we had a code where we could come and go as we wanted.

“Now we have to register, fill out a Covid questionnaire and can only see my mum in her room. It’s been almost three years. I don’t understand why they are still being punished. We are not allowed to enter any of the common areas.”

Linda is still required to wear a mask in public areas, like the hallways, and when she removed her mask in her mother’s room, she said she was turned away by a manager.

The Department of Health and Social Care did not respond to requests for comment.

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