Care home residents can hug relatives for first time since Covid crisis began
Care home residents will be allowed to hug relatives and hold their hands for the first since the pandemic began under new Government guidance announced on Tuesday.
Care home residents will be allowed visits from relatives and friends if they have received a negative Covid-19 test.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) guidance, which has been welcomed as "good news" by elderly care charities, means family members can visit loved ones in care homes from Wednesday.
The DHSC said more than one million tests will be sent to care home providers over the next month to allow safe indoor visits, with visits able to happen across all tiers. But it added that visitors should minimise contact as much as possible and wear personal protective equipment (PPE).
"I know how difficult it has been for people in care homes and their families to be apart for so long," said Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary. "The separation has been painful but has protected residents and staff from this deadly virus.
"I’m so pleased we are now able to help reunite families and more safely allow people to have meaningful contact with their loved ones by Christmas.
"This news has been made possible by the unprecedented strides made in testing technology and capacity, as well as extra PPE supplies."
Christmas coronavirus rules
Helen Whately, the care minister, added: "It is impossible to eliminate risk entirely, but now thanks to an enormous expansion of testing capacity and a huge delivery of free PPE we can help to more safely reunite families throughout December."
The DHSC has published the guidance to coincide with the lifting of England’s second national lockdown. It said testing "is one way of reducing the risk of visiting a care home, but it does not mean there is no longer any risk".
"Every visitor must return a negative test before each visit," the guidance said. "If a visitor has a negative test, is wearing appropriate PPE, and following other infection control measures then it may be possible for visitors to have physical contact with their loved one, such as providing personal care, holding hands and a hug, although contact should be limited to reduce the risk of transmission, which will generally be increased by very close contact."
Care Quality Commission-registered providers will be sent an extra 46 million items of free PPE, according to the Government.
The announcement comes after last week care home bosses called for clarity on guidance over visitors during the festive period.
Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK, described the new guidance as "really good news" and said she hoped it would help "many families being reunited with their loved ones after an awfully long time".
But she added: "The Government has promised that everyone will be able to visit their loved one by Christmas and, while this is a laudable aim, it is also very ambitious, so we remain worried that practical difficulties of various kinds could get in the way for some.
"Older people and their families have been through so much. We need to be careful not to set them up for further disappointments."