Find out how we are working together to support visits to care homes and other settings during coronavirus.

Making sure that residents in care settings across the county and their families can keep in touch during coronavirus is vital for physical and mental wellbeing. But we know that we must act now to save lives and limit the spread of the virus as much as possible.  

With cases rising, and some residents of our care settings being among the most vulnerable, we wrote to all care providers asking them to stop visits from 1 October, which would be reviewed before the end of the month.

We also encouraged the continued use of window visits, so residents and family members could still see each other face to face, and remote contact by telephone and other technology such as Facetime and Skype.

Thank you to all colleagues for your response to protect care home residents and staff as the Covid-19 infection rates rise across North Yorkshire and around the UK.

Last Friday, I wrote to you to update about a number of issues, including the steps that the County Council and NHS partners are taking; potential funding; new Government policy announcements; and updates on PPE and testing. I also requested that all provider colleagues take further steps around Covid security and a recommendation that, in three districts (Harrogate, Scarborough and Selby), providers should put restrictions should in place for care home visiting, with the exception of visits to people who are nearing the end of their lives. I said that these arrangements would be in place until 30th September 2020.

I am grateful for your feedback and ideas in response to that letter. I have had a number of conversations with provider colleagues as well as with some care home residents and their relatives. I have also held the first of our weekly NY Care Connected webinar sessions and we have had some discussions about this issue there, too.

I am writing to you today to update you further.

Care home and supported living visiting

Infection rates have increased again in the last week and whilst we have a good overview of outbreaks and are working hard to contain and manage them, including within the care sector, the overall rates within the community are worrying and we are

seeing household and community transmission. Infection levels are evenly spread across 5 of the 7 districts within the County, with Craven being higher and Ryedale lower. At this stage, the virus is mainly presenting amongst people aged under 60: however, this creates a real challenge in terms of staffing for care services and continuing with normal visiting within care homes.

The Director of Public Health’s advice is that care homes and supported living schemes should now cease routine visiting (except for people who are near the end of their lives) across the County and that we should do so for a fixed period of time, so that we can:

  • Protect people early on as cases and hospital admissions increase
  • Review Covid security for care home visits, as part of the task group I announced last week and see what, if anything, we can do to provide Covid-secure visiting options that meet the imperative of protecting people from the virus and ensuring that residents and families can keep in touch

Our strong preference would be to have a locally responsive, Covid-secure approach that allows visiting to continue. Given the current capacity issues with the national testing programme, a more flexible approach, which could test regular named visitors, is difficult to guarantee at the present time and, therefore, reluctantly, we are introducing more stringent measures for the time-being.

I am writing to advise and recommend that all residential and nursing homes and supporting living schemes in all parts of the County:

  • Cease routine visiting (except for people who are near the end of their lives and for essential visits by NHS and social care practitioners) with effect from 00:00 on Thursday 1st October – this timescale gives you time to prepare residents and to enable weekend visits to take place
  • Continue window visits for all residents so that family members and residents can still see each other face to face
  • Encourage remote contact by telephone and other technology

We recommend and advise that these arrangements should be in place until 31st October 2020 and that during this time we will assess them in the context of 1) the infection and outbreak rates and the prevalence of the virus and 2) assurance about any alternative measures which could help providers to re-introduce some form of visiting throughout the Winter in a safe and secure way

Please take this letter as our advice and recommendations to prepare for restrictions to be in place from 1st October. In the meantime, please ensure that indoor visits over the next few days are planned and managed well, to ensure the maximum protection from the risk of Covid.

During October, we would advise that visits can still continue for people who are, sadly, near the end of their lives and for individuals who need support from an NHS or social care professional. In both situations, national rules around hand-washing, face masks, PPE, distancing and other requirements need to be followed.

We will issue further advice about other activities such as hairdresser visits into a home but we would recommend that you to restrict these to a minimum where possible for the time being.

We would also recommend that you do make arrangements for regular window visits to continue during this time as well as increased contact via technology.

Care home and supported living residents’ trips into the community

At the same time we are recommending that you reduce, and make more Covid-secure, any visits by residents into the local community. Ideally, any trips should be in open space and socially distanced, for exercise and fresh air.  People are advised to wear face coverings where they are able to do so and to be vigilant when in the community.

Extra care

We will be reviewing the situation with regard to visits to, and from, extra care schemes and we will issue further advice in the near future. For the time being, however, we are not recommending restrictions to visiting in extra care schemes or to trips out by extra care residents. The reason for the difference is that people live in their own self-contained apartments. However, we would advise all schemes to consider, and prepare for, further potential restrictions; to enhance their Covid security; and to plan the flow in and out of buildings to reduce the risks. 

Funding

We are still awaiting the detailed guidance on the next round of the national Infection Prevention and Control Fund. We will contact you as soon as further information is available and we will be keen to get money out to providers at the earliest opportunity.

We have also reviewed our North Yorkshire additional Covid payments and can confirm that we will extend these for a further 4 weeks at the 2.5% premium that has been paid to eligible providers during September (having tapered from 5% earlier in the year) and we will keep this arrangement under review. PPE will also be provided nationally on a free basis to care providers.  

Supporting you

As mentioned in my letter last week, we will continue to support you as much as we can. A mix of daily calls and daily electronic contacts are in place. We are continuing to offer webinars with practical advice and training. And there is an open invitation to a weekly briefing, NY Care Connected, every Wednesday at 5pm.

A number of our teams are also available to help and our Quality Improvement Team,

alongside NHS colleagues, will be undertaking drop-ins and are available to provide practical help.

Thank you for all that you are doing.

We also set up a task group so we could work together to see what, if anything, could be done to provide Covid-secure visiting options in the future across settings for older people, people with dementia, people with learning disabilities and/or physical/sensory disabilities as well as people with mental health issues.

The task group includes residents of care settings, family members and care provider managers as well as our Health and Adult Services staff. 

Read about the first meeting of the task group and their recommendations.

Let us know your ideas

With cases rising, the government may well need to put greater restrictions in place over the winter and these could be in place for some time. We know how important being able to keep in touch with your family is and how big an impact this could have. 

We would welcome your suggestions on practical steps to help you stay in touch with loved ones in a way that protects against coronavirus. Because of the national and local situation, we are looking at options which cover a range of eventualities from a further, full lockdown, to more limited restrictions on social contact and physical distancing.

We would be interested to hear your views on:

  • What has worked for you to help keep safe from Covid-19 and stay in touch with loved ones this year?
  • How can we all support people to be able to stay in touch and Covid-safe over the coming months, particularly if there is a more restrictive national or local lockdown?

 

Please let us know by emailing us at HAScovidcomms@northyorks.gov.uk.


We'll continue to work closely with care providers across the county and keep everyone up to date as the situation changes. 

Dear residents, families and friends,

I am writing to you about recent advice that I gave to residential and nursing homes and supported living schemes about visiting for people who live in care. I know many people have been affected by this, and I want to be clear with you about why this advice was given and what we are doing to see how visiting can continue in some way in the future.  

I know that 2020 has been a difficult time for many people living in care and for your loved ones, family and friends. The initial lockdown earlier this year meant that personal visits were, at best, limited to window visits or use of technology. I know many people were greatly relieved when personal visits were able to start again through the summer, although I am also aware that this has not happened in all places. I would like to thank you and colleagues in the care provider sector for the way that you have supported these Covid-safe measures for opening up visits in care home gardens and other spaces. 

Sadly, in the past month we have seen Covid-19 infection rates rising again across North Yorkshire and around the UK. This situation has seen a return to local lockdowns in some parts of the country including in neighbouring counties. Fortunately, we have not had any local lockdowns in North Yorkshire yet, but the situation is volatile. Transmission rates in the community are worrying and we are seeing enough to need to take further action.

In mid-September, I wrote to all care providers to update them on the situation and to ask them to consider visiting restrictions within the Harrogate, Scarborough and Selby districts for the period up until 30 September. As the infection rates continued to grow, the Director of Public Health advised that we should advise all homes to stop routine visiting temporarily across the County. This was a precautionary measure to protect people early on and to try avoid a repeat of the rapid increases in care home outbreaks that we saw earlier in the year. Consequently, I made the reluctant decision to advise homes that restrictions on visiting should be extended to the end of October.    

The only exception is for people who are, sadly, near the end of their lives, and for essential visits by NHS and social care practitioners. In both cases, practice around hand washing, use of face masks, PPE, distancing and other requirements must be followed.

Protecting care home residents and staff from Covid-19 is our absolute priority. However, we know that people’s mental health is also very important. I have heard directly from residents, families and friends impacted by these changes and I know from personal experience how important it is for people to have visits. I have advised that care providers continue window visits for all residents, where possible, so that people can still see each other face to face. This might mean less frequent, pre-booked visits, for example, so that everyone can have a window visit. I have also encouraged providers to support contact by telephone and other technology.

These arrangements will be in place until 31st October 2020.  The decision about what happens after 31st October will depend on the infection rates and the prevalence of the virus. However, I want to assure you that we are looking very carefully at ways in which we could provide Covid-secure visiting options that protect people whilst still ensuring that they can keep in touch. I am very conscious, as the Prime Minister has said, that we could be living with Covid into the Spring of 2021 and so I would like to find a way forward, if national regulations allow, that supports safe visiting and protects residents.

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 right now to guarantee that this approach will be practicable.

We have also asked care providers to reduce, and make more Covid-secure, any visits by residents into the local community. Ideally, any trips should be in open space and socially distanced, for exercise and fresh air.  People should wear face coverings where they are able to do so and be vigilant when in the community.

For the time being, we are not advising restrictions to visiting in Extra Care or to trips out by Extra Care residents. This is because people live in their own self-contained apartments. However, we have recommended all Extra Care schemes to consider and prepare their Covid security, including planning about the flow of people in and out of buildings to reduce the risks.  We will continue to review visiting for Extra Care schemes and we will issue further advice in the near future.

We are currently working with a task group of residents, relatives and care providers from across North Yorkshire. They are helping us better understand what works and what new ideas are possible to keep people connected. They are looking at visits to care homes and supported living schemes, as well as residents’ trips out into the community. I have asked that they report back to me with recommendations before the end of October.

I would like to thank you again for your understanding at this time around these difficult decisions. We will continue to work with you to support you and your loved ones and I will keep in touch with you about these developments.

Best wishes,

Richard Webb, Corporate Director Health and Adult Services