Nursing homes must be open for “safe visits” by loved ones, Boris Johnson was warned.
As England nears its second lockdown, concerns about the emotional harm to residents and their family members have been raised.
Union leader Sir Keir Starmer told the Prime Minister that mental health costs for both nursing homes and their loved ones would be “increasingly worrying” if facilities were effectively closed to visitors during the second wave of coronavirus.
The Unison union, which represents nursing home workers, also highlighted the need for safe visits as there are greater safety concerns.
As a government leaving ordinance, due to come into effect Thursday, close family members and friends of nursing home residents may continue to visit as part of an exemption that they deem to be “essential” for mental health reasons .
Addressing Mr Johnson during the Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday, Sir Keir said: “In the face of the second wave, there is growing concern about the emotional well-being of nursing homes and their families if all visits are halted.
“It must be possible to find a way to facilitate safe visits and to alleviate great fears of isolation and despair in the months ahead.
“Will the Prime Minister work bipartisan to find a program that works for those in need and their families?”
Mr Johnson said new guidelines specifically for visits to nursing homes would be released later and that they would “seek to strike a balance between people’s real need to see their loved ones and the apparent risk of the disease spreading in nursing homes”.
Mark Adams, executive director of the Social Care Charity Community Integrated Care, said people assisted in care services have been “tragically deprived of personal contact with their loved ones for too long,” and he hoped for improvements in the testing program will be “the game changer we need”.
He said, “As winter approaches, the creative ways the grooming sector is supporting for a safe outdoor visit become untenable.
“While nursing homes are just not as accessible as they were before the pandemic, there are some solutions.
“We want individuals to have a named visitor who can get quick turnaround tests prior to their visit.
“With assistance in providing effective PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and decontamination processes, safe visiting areas, and a reasonable expectation of how many visits a nursing home can provide in such a complex and high-risk environment, we can at least offer families some comfort.”
Figures released by the Data Analysis Bureau last month suggest that at least a third of nursing home residents in England have not received a coronavirus test in the last month – despite the government’s promise to conduct regular tests across the industry .
The Prime Minister’s comments came after former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested using the new rapid tests to allow people with demented family members in nursing homes to visit.
A pilot mass test will be launched in Liverpool on Friday, which will allow anyone who lives or works in the city to be tested regularly, even if they have no symptoms. The results are provided without a laboratory.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Hunt said, “I think this (quick turnaround tests) has been checked by the government, but when we get to the point where we do these tests of an entire city (Liverpool) able to offer. Then we can certainly find a way to offer it to people who have loved dementia sufferers in nursing homes. “
Unison Assistant Secretary-General Christina McAnea said: “Controlling the virus and protecting the vulnerable must be a priority. But the chance to see loved ones would make a huge difference to elderly residents if it can be safely done.
“The government had months to resolve test and trace issues.
“If life is ever to return to normal, an effective, regular testing system for caregivers and visitors is essential.”