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Restrictions on over-65s making visits out of care homes dropped from guidance


By PA News

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Campaigners argued previously that by imposing a blanket ban, regardless of the health of the individual, the Government was acting unlawfully (Aaron Chown/PA)

Restrictions preventing people in residential care over the age of 65 from taking trips outside the home have been dropped from Government guidance being targeted with legal action from campaigners.

John’s Campaign, which fights for relatives to have better access to their loved ones while they are in care, launched a legal challenge last week over a previous rule which limited visits out to those residents of working age.

Branding the rule in March 8 guidance “discriminatory”, it argued that by imposing a blanket ban regardless of the health of the individual the Government was acting unlawfully.

But in the “visits out of care homes” guidance on the Government’s website, that was updated on Wednesday, there is now no reference to an age restriction.

It is understood the change was not in response to any campaign, but part of the ongoing review of guidance.

The latest version applies from Monday.

Noting the rule change, John’s Campaign said it would “continue to press” the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to drop rules on self-isolation, which dictate anyone who leaves a care home must self-isolate for 14 days upon return.

Since launching their legal challenge, John’s Campaign co-founders Nicci Gerrard and Julia Jones had been “overwhelmed” by calls from members of the public affected by the guidance, lawyers said.

An update provided by solicitors Leigh Day said people had spoken of their “anger and heartbreak” at being apart from loved ones who, despite being vaccinated, had “no hope of visits out”.

Young men and women with learning disability or autism are being denied the opportunities guaranteed in their care plans, and older residents are missing the sweetness of the outside world during the last years of their lives
Julia Jones, John’s Campaign

They shared the story of Jane – not her real name – whose 83-year-old father has not been allowed out to visit his family in more than 12 months.

She told John’s Campaign: “My dad cannot live with the threat that if he wants to be taken out for a walk in the park, he then has to stay isolated in his room for two weeks.

“The risk of being isolated is too much, he can’t cope with the isolation period. The days are long and hard enough as it is.”

Two parents called Dana and Tom – whose names have also been changed – said their 30-year-old son who has autism and lives in a home can no longer making regular outings as part of his care plan.

They say they are unable to visit him because of the distress it causes him when he does not understand why he cannot leave with them.

Dana said: “Robert would never be able to do 14 days isolation. He wouldn’t be able to comprehend it.

“I hate lying to Robert every night, asking if he can do a couple more days for me. He says ‘I am being good mum, but when am I coming home?’.

“We desperately miss him and feel as parents that all of our rights and Robert’s rights have been taken away, it’s like we don’t have any.”

Leigh Day previously sent a pre-action protocol letter to the DHSC saying the March 8 guidance should balance the Covid-19 risk against the harm caused by keeping people away from their families.

John’s Campaign also wants to see the 14-day self-isolation requirement amended now that rapid testing has been rolled out to care homes, and now that residents are allowed designated visitors.

It noted that on the self-isolation rule, the Government’s guidance states: “We recognise that in practise, this is likely to mean that many residents will not wish to make a visit out of the home.”

Ms Jones said: “I find myself amazed at the Government’s callous acknowledgement that obliging people to self-isolate for 14 days after a trip out will deter people from leaving the ‘homes’ where they have been stranded for over a year.

“There is no logic to this – care staff come in and out every day with no restriction on their community interactions.

“Young men and women with learning disability or autism are being denied the opportunities guaranteed in their care plans, and older residents are missing the sweetness of the outside world during the last years of their lives.

“This seems massively discriminatory and a contravention of Article 5 of the HRA (Human Rights Act), particularly for people with full mental capacity who have not given their consent to this form of detention.”

As part of the road map out of lockdown, we have updated guidance for care homes to support residents to enjoy out-of-care-home visits in the safest way possible, while also providing more opportunities for visits to take place in care homes
DHSC

Tessa Gregory, from Leigh Day, said: “The Government needs to urgently act and amend the guidance to enable care homes to take a more nuanced, sensible approach on much-needed visits out.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “We understand contact with family and friends is central to the health and well-being of residents, and we are doing everything we can to provide safe opportunities to meet.

“As part of the road map out of lockdown, we have updated guidance for care homes to support residents to enjoy out-of-care-home visits in the safest way possible, while also providing more opportunities for visits to take place in care homes.

“When the data shows it is safe, the Government wants to go even further and allow more visits to take place.”


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