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Possibility of Derry care home residents visiting family at Christmas being assessed

Board meeting told that, unlike England, people aren’t permitted to 'hold hands or hug' loved ones during care home visits

Appeal to help elderly people as the coronavirus pandemic escalates

Appeal to help elderly people as the coronavirus pandemic escalates

It is unlikely that family and friends will be allowed to visit care homes to ‘hold hands or hug’ their loved ones at Christmas, a Western Trust Director has said.

In England the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has moved to allow such contact for family and friends after a pledge to send more than a million Coronavirus tests to care homes.

However, transmission rates in NI are still deemed too high to follow suit.

At December’s Western Trust Board meeting, Non-Executive Director Professor Hugh McKenna

said a statement was issued by the British Government regarding care homes in England.

It indicated, he explained, that families would be able to visit their loved ones in care homes if they test negative for Covid-19 and there is no outbreak in the home.

“One of the guidelines actually says that if PPE is worn, and other infection control are followed, it will be possible for visitors to have physical contact with their loved ones such as providing personal care, holding hands and hugging,” Professor McKenna added.

He asked what the situation is in Northern Ireland and whether ‘we are quite a bit away from this?’

Dr Bob Brown, Executive Director of Nursing and Director of Primary Care & Older People said he was ‘very interested’ to see that coverage.

But, he stressed: “We continue to uphold the Health Minister’s visiting guidance and his Chief Medical Officer who leads on that piece is not anticipating us changing the guidance this side of Christmas on the basis that there are still significant transmission rates in certain areas and so forth.

“However, we want to continue to ensure there is full implementation of the visiting guidance, including the care partner role and we know that there will be a call for families to be able to visit in Christmas week.”

The meeting was told that work is ongoing to ‘risk assess’ the potential for families to send loved ones home ‘even for a few hours’ at Christmas.

“That needs to be very carefully managed and at present we continue to audit all care homes in terms of compliance with the visiting guidance and we know, for example, those homes that are still facilitating face-to-face visiting, those that are having challenges such as an outbreak will have visiting closed and we’re meeting every week with those who are implementing the care partner role.”

Dr Brown recognised that Christmas is ‘a really important time’ but said there was no NI position on testing visitors going in to care homes and if that changed it would be a Ministerial decision.

CARE PARTNERS

A Department of Health spokesperson today confirmed: “The Department understands the importance of maintaining social connections for care home residents and their families.

"Further guidance on visiting is expected in the next few days.”

Following the first wave of the Coronavirus, in September Health Minister Robin Swann announced that all health and social care facilities in Northern Ireland should move to facilitate one face-to-face visit per week by one person.

The province wide guidance applies to hospital and care homes as well as other facilities.

It was drawn up to protect patients, residents and staff from Covid-19 – while recognising the importance of human contact to health and well-being.

Health Trusts and care homes will advised to implement more localised and tighter restrictions in the event of outbreaks.

Care homes were encouraged to develop the concept of care partners.

Care partners are more than a visitor – they are people who previously provided an essential element of maintaining their relative’s physical and mental health or provided specific support and assistance to ensure that communication or other health and social care needs are met due to a pre-existing condition.

Without this input it is believed that residents are likely to experience ‘significant distress’.

Two designated care partners were permitted to share this role, one at a time, across the week.

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