North Yorkshire’s care homes and supported living schemes are being advised to limit routine visiting during October to protect residents as Covid-19 infection rates rise across the county.
This recommendation follows the call to arms issued by North Yorkshire’s Local Resilience Forum last week to “act now, save lives”.
The county council’s director of health and adult services, Richard Webb, has written to care providers today to advise that routine visiting to care homes should cease from October 1 for a month after which the situation will be reviewed.
Last week, homes in Harrogate, where infection rates were higher than in some other districts, as well as Scarborough and Selby, which are on the Government watch list as areas of concern, were advised to restrict routine visiting. This advice is now being extended across the county.
Families and friends will still be able to visit loved ones who are at the end of their lives and essential visits by NHS and social care practitioners will still take place as long as national rules around hand-washing, face masks, PPE, distancing and other requirements are followed.
The county council is now setting up a task force to review Covid security in care homes and to see what, if anything, it can do to provide Covid-secure visiting options in the future that meet the imperative around protecting people from the virus and ensuring residents and families can keep in touch.
Richard Webb said: “We must thank our care providers across North Yorkshire for the huge amount of work they have undertaken and the dedication they have shown to protect our care home residents and staff during the pandemic and, in recent months, when care homes have been able to open up to visitors again. We know how much these visits mean to residents and families and how important they are to people’s mental and physical well-being.
“We are seeing infection rates rising across the county, including household and community transmission. Whilst we are working hard to contain and manage outbreaks, including within the care sector, the overall rates within the community are worrying.
“We are making this recommendation with great regret. However, it is important that we follow Public Health advice and act now as cases and hospital admissions increase.”
The County Council is advising homes to bring the restrictions into effect from Thursday October 1st to give homes time to prepare residents.
“Our strong preference” said Richard Webb, “would be to have a locally responsive, Covid-secure approach that allows visiting to continue. But given the current capacity issues with the national testing programme, a more flexible approach, which could test regular visitors, is difficult to guarantee at the present time and, therefore, reluctantly, we are recommending more stringent measures for the time-being.”
Care homes will be encouraged to allow window visits for all residents so that family members, friends and residents can still see each other, alongside greater use of remote contact by telephone and other technology.
The County Council is also advising that care home residents can continue to make trips into the community, but are advising that these should, ideally, be outdoors to allow for social distancing and that, when out and about, they should wear face masks where possible and be extra vigilant.
Families and friends can also still visit people living in Extra care schemes, as these are self-contained apartments. Extra care providers are being advised to prepare for further potential restrictions and to enhance their Covid security, including the flow in and out of buildings, to reduce the risks.
The County Council has also reviewed its North Yorkshire additional Covid payments to care providers and will be extending its current extra support into October. It is also advising that PPE will be provided nationally on a free basis to the care sector.
Mike Padgham, chair of the provider organisation The Independent Care Group, said: “It is regrettable that home visits have to stop but we have to do everything we can, with North Yorkshire County Council, to prevent the spread of coronavirus to the older and vulnerable people we care for.
“Covid-19 has taken a terrible toll in care and nursing homes and we support everything that can be done to prevent a second wave taking hold.
“We are also aware of the harm a lack of contact is doing to these residents and their families and hope we can work with the authority to find new and innovative ways to enable contact as soon as we can safely do so.
“We are grateful for the support of North Yorkshire County Council and the financial aid it is providing to providers as we all work together to protect those most susceptible from this dreadful virus.”