UPDATE – 30 May 2020
Since writing and posting the blog below, the government has updated its social distancing guidelines. It includes the following:
“If you have any of the following health conditions, you are clinically vulnerable, meaning you are at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus. You are advised to stay at home as much as possible and, if you do go out, take particular care to minimise contact with others outside your household.
Clinically vulnerable people are those who are:
- aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
- under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (that is, anyone instructed to get a flu jab each year on medical grounds):
- chronic (long-term) mild to moderate respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), or cerebral palsy
- a weakened immune system as the result of certain conditions, treatments like chemotherapy, or medicines such as steroid tablets
- being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
- pregnant women
As above, there is a further category of people with serious underlying health conditions who are clinically extremely vulnerable, meaning they are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus. You, your family and carers should be aware of the guidance on shielding which provides information on how to protect yourself still further should you wish to.”
The points set out below are intended to help providers start to prepare for visitors when guidance changes. They may also assist those who are already facilitating visits despite visits being in breach of regulations and guidance. There is no guidance permitting visits to care homes yet other than for end of life care. Facilitating visits therefore exposes providers to a range risks that can be mitigated but not eliminated even with the greatest of care.
Healthcare Counsel’s Weekly zoom session on Wednesday centred on planning to open homes to visitors. I commented that providers who are not currently facilitating visits nevertheless need to start preparing now because there has been a pattern of guidance and law changing without notice. True to form, yesterday afternoon the Prime Minister announced that social distancing guidance would be eased as of Monday so that up to 6 people from different households could meet outdoors even on private premises. There is no reason to think that will not include grounds of care homes. [UPDATE: Note the updated social distancing guidelines above regarding clinically vulnerable and extremely clinically vulnerable groups].
Some providers have already started to facilitate visits. Some have held socially distanced garden tea parties. Others have been arranging drive-through visits. Until Monday, the visitors themselves would have been in breach of the regulations because visiting family is not covered by the regulations. Moreover, in both “Admission and Care of Residents during COVID-19 Incident in a Care Home”, published on 2 April and “Covid-19: our action plan for adult social care” published on 15 April, the government recommended that visits should be limited to those who are at end of life. CQC’s current guidance also reflects that.
It is easy to see why providers took a view, though. Isolation from family is having a devastating impact on residents’ quality of life at at time when they may not have much life left. Providers reported that some residents have become depressed and withdrawn without visits from their families, and some providers have even seen increases in physical frailty including pressure sores.
It is equally easy to why other providers have remained in complete lock-down. As the guidance remains in force, it would be difficult to criticise a provider for following it, particularly given the nature and degree of the risks posed by Covid, set out below. In contrast, the risks to residents and staff is real and grave.
Both those who have already opened up their homes to visits, and those who must now at least start planning to do so, need to consider the risks carefully and manage them effectively.
For those planning to restart visits, the following risks must be considered:
- Staff and residents contracting Covid from visitors.
- Visitors contracting Covid from staff and residents.
- Visitors contracting Covid from other visitors.
- Heightened risks to clinically vulnerable residents.
- Claims from staff, residents and/or visitors who contract Covid.
- Regulatory enforcement in relation to resident safety.
- Regulatory enforcement in relation to restricting visits.
- Scrutiny from commissioners, public health, and safeguarding.
- Embargos if there are new Covid cases or concerns about safety.
- Insurers not covering any losses caused by Covid either because providers have not followed guidance and best practice or because they have withdrawn cover relating to Covid entirely when renewing insurance policies (several providers have reported this).
- Data protection breaches in relation to handling information about Covid cases.
- Staff concerns about being exposed to, and/or residents being exposed to, greater risk.
Managing the Risks
Points to consider include:
- Compliance with the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. That will mean from Monday that visits can be in the grounds of care homes but must be outdoors. Likewise, there should be no more than 6 people meeting together at a time, maintaining a minimum distance of 2 meters from those outside their own household.
- Engaging with your local health protection team.
- Discussing your plans with your insurance brokers and ensuring you have clarity as to the extent of your cover.
- Consulting with staff and considering any concerns raised.
- Drafting a policy and procedure regarding visits. This will include:
- Preparing the environment, including cover for inclement weather.
- How visit times will be staggered to ensure social distancing is maintained, and that there are sufficient staff available to facilitate meetings.
- Duration of visits.
- Cleaning the environment before and after each visit.
- Deployment of staff.
- Use of PPE by staff and visitors.
- Obtaining resident consent (or LPA / Deputy / best interest decisions as appropriate for those lacking capacity).
- Planning for each resident including risk assessments. Assessments should cover how the resident can safely access and meet visitors in the environment, and managing any particular challenges om ensuing that social distancing is maintained throughout the visits.
- Consideration of how shielded residents will be protected from the risks of visitors.
- How information about staff, residents and visitors relating to Covid will be processed
- Maintaining contact through other means to supplement visits in person.
- Drafting a visitors’ agreement in which visitors agree to comply with the visiting policy, including infection control and declaring any symptoms or exposure to anyone with symptoms in the preceding 14 days.
None of this will eliminate the risks set out above but will help to mitigate that risk. Providers should regularly keep up to date with government and CQC guidance. SCIE usefully curates government guidance here: https://www.scie.org.uk/care-providers/coronavirus-covid-19
The next Healthcare Counsel Weekly Zoom will take place at 10.30 on Wednesday. Please email me if you’d like the login details. Please also let me know if there are any topics you’d like covered. firstname.lastname@example.org.