Ruthie 'weeps' as care home guidance changes to allow indoor visits
- Credit: Ruthie Henshall
Suffolk West End star Ruthie Henshall has told how she "sat there weeping" at the news she can visit her mother inside her care home, after Government guidance changed.
The government has announced that home residents in England can receive indoor visits from one nominated friend or relative from March 8 onwards, as part of lockdown easing.
However, families are still fighting for visiting to be made easier - while care providers have warned enabling more visits will have an impact on staff time.
Ruthie has been campaigning for care home visits to be allowed to prevent residents “dying from loneliness” during lockdown, after her own mother Gloria's health rapidly declined.
The actress said in a video message she posted on Twitter: "I can't tell you the emotion that I feel. I got a call from my mother's care home to say the new government guidance is allowing one person to become part of the care team of your loved one in a home.
"I wept when they told me. I just sat there weeping on the phone."
While welcoming the news, she said she would continue to fight for other families to be able to visit their loved ones.
"I am going to keep fighting for you all, us all. Don't worry, I'm not stepping back. But I'm going to become part of my mother's care team. Isn't that wonderful?"
Another Suffolk daughter, Jane Barber, also said she was excited at being able to visit her mother again at last - but very disappointed that visits to her care home in West Suffolk will initially be for only 30 minutes a week.
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Her mother, Ann Neale, 82, who has severe dementia and has also been suffering from Covid-19, is a resident at Mildenhall Lodge, which is operated by Care UK.
Mrs Barber said: "I am hoping to visit this week. I am so excited and really can't wait to hold Mum's hand, and I'm also excited for all the other people who will be able to see their loved ones."
However, she said: "I am very disappointed that it's only going to be one 30-minute visit a week. Before Covid, I always used to go three or four times a week and stay for three or four hours each time."
She said she felt her mother really needed a family member to spend much more time with her than just 30 minutes a week.
Mrs Barber and her brother, John Neale, have previously pleaded to be allowed to spend "quality time" with their mum before it is too late.
Prema Fairburn-Dorai, chairman of the Suffolk Association of Independent Care Providers (SAICP), said: "I think all the care homes are geared up for the changes. Many of the homes were already allowing a named visitor to come in."
However, she said there would be some exceptions depending on the situation in a home, for instance if there was a Covid outbreak.
She said SAICP and Suffolk County Council's Adult and Community Services (ACS) had sent guidance to homes to help them with organising the visits.
Ms Fairburn-Dorai, who is also director of Primary Homecare, said that tasks such as organising lateral flow tests for visitors would have an impact on staff time and additional funding would be needed.
"There are implications for staffing, because staff time will be taken up, and some homes may have to get more staff in."
As well as things like organising tests, she said staff would also need to spend time with visitors and explain to them any changes in their loved one's condition if they had not seen them for a long time because of lockdown.
Ms Fairburn-Dorai said she was hopeful it would all work well, especially with the second round of coronavirus vaccinations shortly being rolled out for care home residents.
Care UK’s Regional Director Phillip Steyn said: “We are so pleased to be able to resume indoor visits for those homes that aren’t in quarantine following an outbreak. We know how much residents and their families have been looking forward to seeing each other.
"Most families are very keen to visit, so we are working hard to book people in and ensure visiting opportunities are shared out fairly. It takes some time to administer the lateral flow tests, issue PPE and ensure we have the proper cleaning and infection control measures in place so, for now, visits are only for 30 minutes but we hope to extend this in the future."
He added: "We are lucky in Suffolk that all our homes have more than one Covid-safe visiting suite which has allowed us to safely host visits even during lockdown where homes are not in outbreak. The suites enable a wider range of visitors to see their loved one and don’t require a Covid test or masks. We will continue to offer these as an alternative to the indoor visits unless we are advised otherwise by the local health protection team.”
How the guidance has changed
Under the latest guidance, from March 8, every resident will now be able to nominate a person to visit them indoors.
Residents with the highest care needs can receive more frequent visits from a loved one who will provide essential care and support.
Visitors will be tested prior to visits, wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and be asked to keep physical contact to a minimum. Hand-holding is permitted under the guidance, but hugs and kissing are not.
The Government will decide whether to extend the number of visitors to two per resident at step two of its road map, no earlier than April 12.
Visiting is not conditional on the resident or visitor having been vaccinated, but this is "strongly recommended", the guidance says.
Outdoor visits, window visits and those in pods should continue so residents can see other loved ones.
Under the guidance, in care homes where there are coronavirus outbreaks, nominated visitors will not be able to come into the care home. But visitors providing essential care, and visits when the resident is at the end of their life, can continue.