Family Visits in Health and Social Care Settings: Covid-19

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:40 pm on 11th November 2020.

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Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 3:40 pm, 11th November 2020

I am happy to do that, because I have been looking into that issue as well. The guidance I have been given is that Public Health England and those running the trial want it to take place first in the 30 care homes, which I mentioned. That will enable us to have confidence that those who have had a lateral flow test will be able to visit. There is sequencing to be done, but the issue is at the top of my mind. Lateral flows tests are already being used, and we should make the most of that to enable visiting. I hope to be able to put that more formally in writing in due course.

In the time available, I wish to pick up on a few of the other points that were made in the debate. Daisy Cooper referred to the 30-minute time limit. I believe that that must be something that the care home in question has chosen to put in place. Our guidance advises that one should book a visit with a care home, but does not stipulate a 30-minute limit.

My hon. Friend Huw Merriman set out an excellent list of things for me to take forward. Many of them are indeed in train, such as testing and work on the vaccine. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has proposed that care home staff and residents should be at the top of the list for that. He mentioned a reporting mechanism, which I am also taking forward.

Dan Carden referred to the lottery of visits. On the one hand, we responded to local authorities and care homes when they asked for more discretion and a local say in how we respond to the pandemic; on the other, we can find that in one area there is far more access than in another, so we need to combine allowing local discretion with being able to investigate whether somewhere is not being so supportive of visits. We need to ask what is going on and how can we bring this about.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield focused on the situation of those of working age living in a residential care home. As she said, they have been talked about less during the pandemic than those of an older age, but the people of working age living in residential care are absolutely at the top my mind. As we have seen during the pandemic, those with learning disabilities might be at greater risk if they catch covid, and, like those of an older age with dementia, they need family visits and the support, love and advocacy of a family member.

As my hon. Friend also said, the pandemic has shone a light on some of the problems that existed in our social care system before the pandemic. Yes, the pandemic has been hard for social care, but there were problems before. Although the vast majority of care homes have provided wonderful supportive care—indeed, loving care—for those who live in their buildings, some have sadly let down those they care for. We must continue to identify, intervene and prevent cases where there is neglect or, worse, the abuse of those living in residential care.

We are in the thick of a pandemic that has made life so hard for those living and working in the social care sector. We have to step forward, get on the front foot and really achieve the social care reform that everyone has been crying out for, for so long. This is an, “If not now, when?” moment. We will seize this moment not only to support social care through the pandemic, but to bring about a system of social care where we can hold our heads up high and be happy for the care of our loved ones, our friends and family, or indeed for ourselves, should the time come when we need it.