Care homes should allow indoor visits including hand-holding for one named visitor per resident from Monday March 8, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
The change to indoor visits, which have been banned in all but exceptional circumstances during this latest lockdown, was announced as part of the Prime Minister’s roadmap announcement last month.
But promised guidance for care home owners on what they must do to ensure the visits are covid compliant was only published yesterday afternoon.
The guidance was expected by care home providers on Monday March 1, the Yorkshire Post understands.
Fears are now growing that some families will have to wait longer to see their relatives if individual care home providers say they have not been given adequate time to make preparations.
There is no legal obligation for care homes to give access to family members, and campaign group Rights For Residents are now calling for a change in the law to compel care home providers to allow visits.
Diane Mayhew, co-founder of the Rights for Residents campaign group, said: “It’s a basic human right to have a family life, just because they live in a care home doesn’t mean they should be stripped of human rights.
“We’re now in a situation where many care providers are saying they are going to do it but are waiting to see the guidance, and dropping it on them three days before is unacceptable.
“But we’ve also heard from some providers who say they’re not going to do it, or budge at all.
“There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s a real concern, and we’ve been asking every day for this guidance. It’s so difficult.
“Some care providers, because they’ve not had the guidance, are making it up as they go along.”
Nadra Ahmed, chairman of the National Care Association, said: “It is really disappointing that announcements are made, raising expectations and then the guidance is delayed to within days of implementation.
“It highlights the complete lack of understanding by ministers that enabling meaningful visits safely will need meticulous planning by the providers.
The government guidance reads: “Risks can be managed and mitigated, and they should be balanced against the importance of visiting and the benefits it brings to care home residents and their families.”
The chairman of the Independent Care Group has said the government must do more to protect care home providers if they needed to make an insurance claim.
Mike Padgham, who owns St Cecilia’s care home in Scarborough, is making preparations for indoor visits to begin on Monday, but said some insurance providers would null a care home policy if indoor visits went ahead while any resident was shielding.
He said: “Homes are between a rock and a hard place.
“There’s a risk that a relative might want to take things further from a legal perspective. Insurance is a big issue. More visits could take place if the government were to indemnify providers.”
Lateral flow tests must be taken by visitors before being allowed inside the home and appropriate PPE should be worn.
Any care home with an outbreak of covid must not allow visitors until there have been no cases detected for 28 days.
Richard Webb, North Yorkshire County Council Director for Health and Adult Services said: “Care providers and their registered managers will ultimately have to make a decision about safe visiting for their own home or scheme.
“However, the County Council will continue to assist with training and practical advice to ensure providers feel confident about undertaking the necessary risk assessments.”
A spokesperson for Leeds City Council said: "“The safety of our residents, their families and our staff is of utmost importance and concern to us. We would encourage all care homes to carefully consider the benefits of visiting against the risk of infection now that vaccination, testing and PPE are all available to increase visiting safety. We are working extremely closely with all our care homes to ensure the necessary vaccinations are carried out as quickly as possible.”