Banning care home visits in England's lockdown would breach the 'fundamental human rights' of residents and their families, the Health Secretary has been warned.
In a letter signed by 60 organisations, leaders of the National Care Forum (NCF) urged Matt Hancock not to impose a blanket ban on all visits, which was the case during the first national shutdown.
Under current guidelines, residents are allowed one designated visitor who is tested and provided protective equipment every time they enter the home.
The Government has told providers to 'follow existing guidance' until Thursday, when an announcement about the ins and outs of the new lockdown will be made.
The NCF said banning visits during the first wave was 'intrinsically harmful' and caused families 'extreme anguish', though it admitted it was justified because little was known about the virus.
But, with more knowledge about the disease and how it spreads, as well as increased testing and PPE, 'homes are much better equipped now to manage any risk'.
Speaking at a press conference in October, Boris Johnson acknowledged the situation is 'absolutely wretched' for people unable to see loved ones in care homes, adding he was 'certainly looking at what we can do to... allow people to visit their elderly relatives in extreme circumstances'.
In a letter signed by 60 organisations, leaders of the National Care Forum (NCF) have urged the Health Secretary, along with Social Care Secretary Helen Whately, to allow limited numbers of relatives to visit care homes (file)
CARERS TO BE BANNED FROM WORKING IN MORE THAN ONE HOME
Carers are to be banned from working in more than one home, under legislation being drawn up by the Government which could come into force in weeks.
More than 20,000 care home residents died from Covid-19 during the first wave of the pandemic, in part because asymptomatic workers were allowed to freely move between care homes without being tested for the disease.
Experts say homes employing bank staff, who work at more than one facility, were more at risk from the coronavirus because it provided an opportunity for the disease to jump from an infected home into others.
But under planned laws being drawn up by the Number 10, they will be required to ask staff to sign 'exclusive' contracts barring them from working in more than one home.
Ministers are understood to be bringing in the plans in response to the disaster in the spring, and after asking homes whether they may be able to take back residents which have tested positive for the virus.
Vic Rayner, executive director of the NCF — the membership organisation for not-for-profit organisations in the care and support sector, said their letter is signed by a coalition of residents, relatives, care providers and academics who 'must be listened to'.
She said: 'We must balance the risk of harm from Covid-19 with the risk of harm from isolation and physical, mental, and emotional deterioration (for residents).
'The coalition has a clear set of asks around testing of visitors and the designation of one person (as a minimum) per resident as a key visitor, as well as enabling every care home to manage visiting in the way that best works for them, with help to create safe Covid-19 visiting spaces.'
The letter states that banning care home visits in the first lockdown was an 'emergency response' to a new virus, but this time 'more is understood' about transmission and 'measures are in place' to allow safe visiting.
The NCF adds that elderly residents have an average stay of two years in care homes and there 'simply isn't enough time to watch and wait'.
Caroline Abrahams, director of charity Age UK, one of the letter's signatories, pointed out that France is allowing care home visits despite going into national lockdown.
Ms Abrahams said: 'We believe the right approach during this second national lockdown is to continue to allow visiting to care homes on a case-by-case basis, provided it can be carried out safely.
'We have been heartened in recent days by some fantastic work going on in a growing number of local areas to organise safe visiting, with councils, care providers and families all working together.
'It would be a tragedy to undo this progress now, by imposing draconian measures that ignore the potential for safe visiting in some, perhaps many, places.'
Under the current tier system, care homes in the 'medium' alert level can 'develop a policy for limited visits' but areas in 'high' alert must limit visits to 'exceptional circumstances only such as end of life'.
The NCF said this has placed half of care homes and their residents under 'a default of blanket visiting restrictions'.
Already, hundreds of large care home operators in England have taken extra steps to protect their residents just a couple of months after they were given the go-ahead to reopen at the end of July, when cases of Covid-19 in the UK were at record lows.
The aim is to avoid families bringing the coronavirus into the home and reaching the most vulnerable people of society. The elderly are far more likely to die of the coronavirus if they catch it.
Care homes residents in England were allowed family visits again in July for the first time since lockdown started in March.
Mr Hancock gave care homes the green light to start arranging visits, as long as social distancing and protective equipment rules were followed.
The move finally brought England in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where care home visits were allowed for weeks.