A task group charged with looking at the County’s approach to care home visiting, during the pandemic, has met for the first time this week.
The task group was set up following advice from North Yorkshire County Council for care homes and supported living schemes to limit routine visiting during October to protect residents as Covid-19 infection rates surge across the county.
The recommendation followed warnings from North Yorkshire’s Director of Public Health, Dr Lincoln Sargeant,that the county needed to take early and decisive action to protect the lives of members of the community who were more vulnerable to Covid.
The county council’s director of Health and Adult Services, Richard Webb, wrote to care providers in September advising that routine visiting to care homes should cease from October 1 for a month out of concern for rising community transmission rates. However, he promised that the situation would be reviewed at the end of the October.
He also announced the setting up of a task group to see what, if anything, could be done to provide Covid-secure visiting options in the future.
He said: “We know how vital these visits are for residents and their families and friends and how important they are for people’s mental and physical well-being.
“Care providers across the county have undertaken a huge amount of work and shown continuing dedication to protect our care home residents and staff during the pandemic and, in recent months, when care homes were able to open up to visitors again.
“But we have seen infection rates rising to a worrying degree across the county, largely through household and community transmission. In the last month, we have also seen a growth in Covid outbreaks in care homes and more Covid admissions to our hospitals. Whilst we are working hard to contain and manage outbreaks, including within the care sector, we had to take immediate steps to protect our care home residents and to advise a halt to visiting while we examined a Covid-secure route to enable them to begin again and continue beyond October, if at all possible.”
This week the task group, which includes residents of care settings, family members, dementia experts and care provider managers as well as County Council Public Health and Social Care staff, met online for the first time to talk about how to support visits for people in different types of care settings, including people with learning, physical and sensory disabilities, older people and people with dementia and people with mental health issues.
They discussed their own experiences and observations of the impact of restrictions to visits on people and their loved ones. Some people on the group had not had any visitors in over six months, in spite of the easing of lockdown over the Summer.
Care providers also highlighted the challenges of a blanket, one size fits all approach to restricting visits.
The group also acknowledged the risks to residents that visiting could bring and talked about the need for more flexible approaches based on risk assessments for individual people and specific settings.
The task group, which will will meet again next week, began to explore the pros and cons and practicalities around solutions for trying to re-start visits. These included:
- Testing for designated visitors;
- The creation of a separate place outside of the main care setting building for visits;
- The need for additional resource in care settings to support visiting and going out into the community
Richard Webb said: “This was a really positive meeting and members of the task group welcomed the opportunity to tell their personal stories of the hardship and impact in terms of people’s mental well-being of stopping visits.
Everybody at that meeting also acknowledged the challenges of protecting residents from Covid but showed great focus on finding solutions to enable visits if at all possible beyond October.
“My own preference is for regular Covid testing for designated visitors. However, given the current capacity issues with the national testing programme, it is difficult to guarantee this approach will be practicable at the present time.”
Care homes are still currently 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.
At the same time, it has asked care providers to support residents to be able to take trips out from home, although ideally outdoors and wearing face masks for protection.
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.