Experts in elderly care have warned that a blanket ban on care home visits could increase the risk killing thousands of elderly people prematurely.
They believe sweeping bans on visits to care homes could cause elderly residents to give up hope without visits from loved ones.
Currently, thousands of care homes across the UK are already shut or will soon be told to shut after a spike in coronavirus cases nationwide. As of Friday 25 September, any care homes within an area designated by Public Health England (PHE) for wider anti-coronavirus interventions must stop visits except in exceptional circumstances, such as end of life.
The guidance has also put an end of window and garden visits at these care homes, previously vital point of social contact for residents.
300,000 people already affected by care home restrictions
Care groups are now calling on the government to make limited visiting viable to avoid preventable deaths, including designating certain family members as key workers.
The blanket ban policy will result in the “raw reality of residents going downhill fast, giving up hope and ultimately dying sooner than would otherwise be the case", warned the charity Age UK and the National Care Forum (NCF), which represents charitable care providers.
The organisations estimate roughly 300,000 residents and family members are already being affected by the new restrictions.
Visiting bans currently apply to a number of homes in the north of England and Midlands. The largest affected area is Birmingham, where 296 residential, nursing and supported living facilities have been told to halt all non-essential visits.
More areas are expected to suffer the same restrictions in the coming weeks, with care home outbreaks already rising sharply.
'Care home residents are losing the will to live'
In England, confirmed care home outbreaks of acute respiratory infections involving coronavirus went from 35 on 6 September to 228 just a week later.
In spite of this rise, The Alzheimer's Society has similarly warned that removing family who know how to feed people with dementia could also lead to more deaths.
The Society said hey have received calls to its helpline reporting that without visits, people in care homes have stopped eating and “lost the will to live to the point of dying."
“We are not aware of any evidence showing that visits, if carefully managed, have been a significant risk in spreading the infection so far,” said Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK, and Vic Rayner, the executive director of the NCF, in a joint blog published on 22 September.
“On the contrary, our understanding is that the evidence points more towards people who come in and out of a care home inevitably being rather more of an ongoing risk, whether they are staff or visiting GPs and district nurses, or indeed CQC inspectors.”
They added, “It is not unusual, for example, for the partner of a resident with dementia to spend many hours with them, helping them very slowly to eat and drink sufficiently.”
The Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) winter action plan for care homes asks care home operators in non-intervention areas to develop policy for visits “based on dynamic risk assessments which consider the vulnerability of residents. This should include both whether their residents’ needs make them particularly clinically vulnerable to Covid-19 and whether their residents’ needs make visits particularly important."