Local Bexhill and Battle MP, Huw Merriman, has called on the Government to take urgent steps to make it easier for family and friends to visit loved ones.
Speaking in Parliament this week, the MP called for the Government to regularly test designated family members who would then be able to have closer contact with their loved ones. The MP observed that “the ingredients of love, care and protection which loved ones deliver are vital in keeping vulnerable people alive and with a life.”
Last week, the Government issued revised guidance for visiting arrangements in care homes to ensure safe access and visits by families and loved ones. The guidance proposed a range of options to create COVID-19 secure care home environments and visits, including visits taking place outside and the installation of wall to ceiling screens.
Referring to the guidance, and addressing the Health and Social Care Minister, Helen Whately, Huw said “Some of these measures read to me as more akin to a prison visit than a care home visit. They are also costly; in a system which is already financially constrained. These measures could be avoided with the introduction of testing for designated family and friends.”
The MP went on to say:
“I would like the Government to consider the following 7 measures:
- Regular testing for at least one designated family members and all health professionals visiting;
- The vaccine (when ready) to be prioritised for care home residents and be given to the designated family member and care setting staff when given to the resident;
- Recognition that, with testing and PPE, safe and closer contact be permitted and that we learn from the devastating impact of the first lockdown;
- Additional funding to support care providers to create COVID-19-secure environments to enable wider family members to visit;
- National and local monitoring and reporting process for any blanket decisions to ban visits;
- An acceptance that virtual technology cannot replace human in-person interaction; and
- Providers at a local level to actively promote safe visits
Speaking in response, the Minister said “Overall aim of the Government is to keep those in care homes as safe and well as we possibly can in the face of the pandemic. It’s a hard balance to strike; on the one hand we want to enable visits to care homes yet on the other hand we know that when Covid gets into care homes it has been hard to control and we have seen so many deaths.
“We have a huge testing programme in place for staff and residents. The next thing is for visitors. A trial is starting this month in four local authorities, with low Covid rates, to test the practicalities of testing. There is a plan to roll this out more widely in December. This, combined with lower Covid rates, should make it more feasible to allow more testing. Looking ahead with the promise of a vaccine, the combination of both and the supply of PPE should put us in a better place to enable the visiting we want to see.”
During the debate, the MP referred to his regular visits to care homes and quizzes with residents at Ardath in Bexhill. He paid tribute to all who worked in the sector noting that “In East Sussex, we have the highest proportion of care homes in the South East and the lowest COVID rates. This suggests that in our County care homes, residents and their families, have done the right thing in the face of huge challenges.”
Speaking after the debate in Parliament, the MP said “Before the pandemic struck, the love, fun and spirit which can exist inside residential care homes has been a joy to experience. It’s vital that we do not lose this ethos whilst rightly seeking to keep residents safe. With better testing and a more practical set of proposals, we can ensure that we continue to protect life whilst providing the interaction with loved ones which help deliver quality of life.”