Care home residents in England can begin to be reunited with one of their loved ones, the government has said, as it publishes new guidance.
Visits will resume in care homes once local authorities and local public health directors say it is safe.
Residents will be limited to seeing the same one visitor, where possible, the guidance says.
Until now, visits were dependent on local infection rates and the individual care home.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I know how painful it has been for those in care homes not being able to receive visits from their loved ones throughout this period.
“We are now able to carefully and safely allow visits to care homes, which will be based on local knowledge and circumstances for each care home.”
People in registered residential care and those in nursing homes for people with learning disabilities, mental health or other disabilities in England will also be able to welcome visitors under the same guidance.
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The government said visits could resume after the rate of community transmission of coronavirus had fallen, but staff, residents and visitors should observe its guidance to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
It says care providers should consider whether visits could take place outside, without people having to go through a shared building, and visitors should stick to social distancing guidance while avoiding hugs or handshakes.
Ad hoc visits should be discouraged and providers should collect contact details of visitors to support NHS Test and Trace, the guidance says.
Visitors should also be encouraged to wear a face covering and to wash their hands thoroughly before putting it on and after taking it off.
Gifts for residents should be easy to clean by care home staff. “It is unlikely that they will be able to bring flowers but a box of chocolates that could be sanitised with wipes would be allowed,” the guidance says.
Some care homes in England have been allowing socially-distanced visits in outdoor areas since June, in the absence of government guidance.
Care England, the country’s largest representative body for independent providers of adult social care, said it was “disappointed” the guidance had come so late.
Chief executive Professor Martin Green said: “This guidance should have been with care providers last month.
“We are at a loss to understand why the Department of Health and Social Care cannot act quickly in a crisis or why it is deaf to the comments and input from the sector.”
Risk assessments will happen before homes reopen, the government said.
‘Mum needs reassurance and affection’
Lesley Lightfoot says not being able to be with her mum Blumah, who has Parkinson’s dementia, during lockdown has been “the most painful thing I’ve ever been through”.
For months, she stood outside her mum’s care home, talking to her through a ground floor window. In recent weeks, the home has allowed some outdoor visits.
But Ms Lightfoot wants clarity on whether the latest guidelines mean she’ll be able to see her mum indoors.
“To be able to see her outside doesn’t solve my problem. I need to get in and be with her in her room,” she says, adding that her mum’s mental state has deteriorated with the isolation of lockdown. “She needs the reassurance, the love, the affection, the looking at things with her, the going through things with her.”
The government said it will be down to individual care homes, working with public health officials, to decide whether visits can take place inside people’s rooms.
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