The tough message from Chief Inspector Kate Terroni followed mounting anguish among relatives facing “blanket bans” as elderly and disabled loved ones have declined during lockdown.
“Blanket bans, where there is no active outbreak, are unacceptable,” she said in a statement to the Standard.
“Where CQC are aware of blanket visiting bans in homes with no outbreaks, this may trigger an inspection.”
Inspections are of major importance to homes, which like to emblazon good reports on their brochures and advertising.
She was responding to a plea from family groups for a firm deadline for the unlocking of care homes that are still refusing visits. Leaders of six organisations including Age UK signed a joint statement saying risks must be weighed against the harm caused by lengthy isolation and separation from families.
“If we delay any longer, many residents will have waited more than a year to see and touch their loved ones,” they said.
“This is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue. The absence of meaningful indoor visiting fails to recognise the fundamental role that relationships and love play in a resident’s wellbeing. “
Harrowing stories of elderly and disabled people declining both physically and mentally during lockdown have driven pressure for action.
The Standard has learned of cases where previously fit elderly people have been confined to wheelchairs with powerful sedatives after their behaviour became challenging after months without seeing families.
However, care home owners say they are worried about safety and cannot get insurance cover for residents or visitors infected during visits.
Ms Terroni, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at the Care Quality Commission, said families had had “a terrible time”. She emphasised: “The majority of providers are continuing to do extraordinary work, even when faced with workforce shortages, increased testing and the roll out of a national vaccination program.
“However, we are aware that in some places blanket decisions are continuing to be made against government guidance. Where decisions are being made, whether that is for visiting, testing or vaccination, the focus must always be on the individual needs of the person.”
The joint statement from family and care groups warning of the damage to residents deprived of contact was signed by Caroline Abrahams, at Age UK, Nicci Gerrard & Julia Jones, founders of John’s Campaign, Vic Rayner, at the National Care Forum and Ian Turner, chair of the Registered Nursing Homes Association and two other groups.
They argued: “Ultimately it is impossible to entirely eliminate risk. Providers, commissioners, relatives, friends, regulators and the wider public must recognise this as a shared priority – holding a collective responsibility for what we know is right for humanity.”
Some care homes have offered visits throughout the pandemic, with guests asked to wear PPE and sit behind screens. Some have allowed “window visits”, where residents may be glimpsed from outside. But some have closed their doors for much of the past year.
Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, which represents small to medium sized homes, said every owner was desperate to open up to visitors – and pleaded for Government support to mitigate the risks.
“All provider would like to be able to support meaningful visits and resume the quality visits by loved ones. Current guideline issued by government have put additional responsibilities on providers during the pandemic, to ensure that all visits are risk assessed to safeguard the residents and staff in our services. Additionally, providers will need to ensure testing capacity and capability to meet the needs of all additional visits and this needs careful planning, which includes a booking system and staff time to test and supervise visits.
“Providers are also concerned that government remains silent on the issue of insurance cover for providers, as insurers to the industry have chosen to exclude Covid related claims within policies. Essentially, this creates another layer of legal obligations and concern.
“Support for the sector has been nominal whilst the added risk and responsibility has increased tenfold. Providers will take all necessary steps to support meaningful visits as quickly as they can recognising that this will bring us back to the heart of the services the well-being of those we support.”