Letter to Matt Hancock: Family visits to care homes

September 24, 2020

On Wednesday 16th September, Dementia UK wrote to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, with our recommendations for safe visiting for care homes. We believe this is achievable if there is a collaborative approach between the government, local public health teams, care providers and families. Below is a copy of the letter.

Dear Secretary of State,

Re: Family visits to care homes

It has been seven months since care homes went into lockdown. Seven months since many residents have had meaningful social interaction with family and friends. Seven months since families have been able to spend quality time with their loved ones.

Every day counts. The impact of this forced separation is leading to a rapid deterioration in the health and wellbeing of residents. Unclear government guidance has led to only a limited increase in family contact, and in some cases, no resumption of visits at all. Admiral Nurses on our Helpline continue to receive a high volume of calls from families who are distressed and desperate to see their relatives.

Nurse holding hands with patient

Testing and access to personal protective equipment (PPE) remains absolutely crucial to ensure the safety of residents and staff and to ensure family visits can safely resume. Since the early stage of the outbreak, Dementia UK has called for these safety measures to be in place. We remain concerned that these fundamental measures are still not consistently available, particularly as infection rates are rising across the country.

Dementia UK strongly believes that a compassionate, clinical and pragmatic approach can support solutions and best practice. There is a balance between keeping residents clinically safe while also ensuring families can provide the essential support and social connection that care home residents need. This calls for collaboration but it is achievable.

Below is our recommended approach to help ensure family visits can safely resume, when local infection rates allow:

  • TESTING : We want weekly testing for visiting families, residents and care workers to be prioritised across all parts of the UK
  • SAFETY : We want local public health teams to work on the ground with each care home and provide close, tailored advice and support on safe visiting
  • POLICY: We want to see accurate and unequivocal guidance from government to provide assurance to care home providers if they encourage more visitation rights to families
  • INFORMATION: We want families to receive updated and regular information about visiting their local care home as we know infection rates can change
  • PARITY: We want to see the same esteem and protection afforded to care home providers as the NHS
  • COLLABORATE: We want a united approach where health, social care providers and families are empowered to develop local solutions to enable safe visiting in care homes
  • UNDERSTANDING: We want society to understand the impact the pandemic is having on people with dementia, their families and workforces and use compassion and good sense to improve the situation

Throughout the pandemic Dementia UK has been providing specialist dementia support to families and care homes through our Admiral Nurse services. Our Admiral Nurses are working on the ground to advocate on behalf of families and support care homes to implement best practice for visits that is adaptable to changes in local infection rates. Admiral Nurses on our Helpline offer advice and practical and emotional support to families who are worried and concerned about relatives in care homes. Dementia UK also has a number of information sheets and blog posts on our website regarding care home visits, improving engagement with people with dementia and ways that families can still have an active role in their relative’s care.

Family carers are not just visitors; they have an essential role in person’s care; helping with eating and drinking and communicating wishes as well as providing day-to-day social interaction, emotional care and connection with the outside world.

Care providers and families need clarity and support and the ability to develop local solutions. We call on the government to improve guidance, share examples of best practice and endorse a collaborative approach that meets local needs while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable members of our society. We would welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with your department and to offer our specialist advice and expertise to help support this.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Hilda Hayo, CEO and Chief Admiral Nurse

Paul Edwards, Director of Clinical Services

Coronavirus information and advice

Read about how you can look after yourself, and the person with dementia, during this time

Find out more

Dementia specialist Admiral Nurses

Learn more about the work of our Admiral Nurses in the community and on our dementia Helpline

Find out more