A DECISION to lift the ban on people visiting loved ones in care homes has been hailed as “a big step forward.”

Regular indoor visits at the area’s care homes have been blocked for months amid fears over high levels of coronavirus cases.

However, the Scottish Government has confirmed that, from early next month, residents will be able to have up to two designated visitors, with each of those allowed to see their loved one once a week.

Age Scotland said that, for many residents and their relatives, the new guidelines “can’t come quick enough.”

Brian Sloan, the charity’s chief executive, added: “This is a big step forward.

“For the best part of a year, residents in care homes have largely been cut off from meaningful contact with loved ones and its impact on their health and wellbeing has been significant.

“Hearing family members talk of the noticeable deterioration in the condition of their loved one and that they feel they are slipping away before them is heart-breaking.

“Now the vaccine is showing its effectiveness, it is another important layer of protection from Covid-19.

“Together with the highest standards of infection control, use of PPE and regular, fast testing of people coming into a care home, it means the risks are minimised and safer visiting can happen.”

Regular visiting will resume in Scottish care homes from early March, with residents allowed to have two designated visitors each.

Each designated visitor will be able to see their relative once a week, the Scottish Government says, due to the progress of the vaccination programme.

Care home visiting has been tightly restricted during the pandemic.

However, data released on Wednesday showed care home coronavirus deaths had fallen by 62% in the last three weeks, with the figure cited by Nicola Sturgeon as the first “hard evidence” of the vaccine’s impact.

Almost all residents have received the jab, along with 92% of care home staff.

The government says that with the extra protection in place, the greater risk to residents’ wellbeing is from a lack of family contact.

Further guidance on the visiting system will be published on Wednesday.
Visitors will be “strongly recommended” to take a coronavirus test on-site and will have to wear PPE.

Cathie Russell, who has been campaigning with the Care Home Relatives Scotland group, said: “We look forward to working with care home providers, public health and oversight teams to ensure that the new guidance allows residents to enjoy meaningful contact with their closest relatives and friends once more.

“It has been a very difficult year.

“The deepest ties of love are important and we can never thrive without them.”
Health Secretary Jeanne Freeman said the decisions around care home visiting had been some of the hardest during the pandemic.

She said: “We deeply regret the deaths and other harm caused by coronavirus in our care homes, but we also recognise the harm caused to the wellbeing of residents and families as a result of an inability to see those they love.

“We must remain vigilant about the risks but with multiple layers of protection now in place the balance is in favour of allowing visits.

“Everyone, including visitors, has a responsibility to ensure that visits take place as safely as possible by continuing to follow safety advice.”

She added: “The guidance we are publishing sets out an expectation that providers will put in place arrangements to enable regular visits to resume from early March and from the discussions I have had with providers, I now expect all care homes to have embraced this guidance by mid-March.”

Donald MacAskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, said: “The Covid pandemic has presented frontline care home staff and managers with many challenges but undoubtedly the hardest has been keeping residents apart from family and friends.

“We have now reached a very different place and with a range of Covid-19 protections in place, including vaccination and testing, combined with the use of PPE and IPC, we are at a stage where we can reintroduce safer indoor visiting to Scotland’s care homes.

“This day has been long-awaited and we understand that it will be an emotional time for many.”