Politics

Holding hands on care home visits may be allowed within weeks, minister Helen Whately hints


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Government minister today gave hope to care home residents that they may be able to hold hands with their loved ones within weeks.

She also said she did not see why residents would have to wait for their second vaccine dose before being allowed to see visitors.

It comes after the Government reached a major milestone at the end of January as all older residents at eligible care homes in England had been offered a vaccine.

Ms Whately told Sky News: “I really, really want to open up visiting in care homes more.

“We have made sure that visiting can continue even during this national lockdown but I recognise it’s not the normal kind of visiting – it is having to use screens or visiting pods or through windows.

“What I want to do, as we come out of the national lockdown, is also increase the amount of visiting.

“I don’t see that we have to wait for the second vaccination dose. I want us to open up sooner than that.”

She added: “We do have to be cautious. Residents in care homes have only had their first dose and some of them only very recently so it will be step by step.

“But I am determined so that we can see people go back to even if it’s to be able to hold hands again and to see somebody who you haven’t been able to see very much in the last few months and over the last year. I really want to make that happen again.”

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Pressed on whether she meant a second dose for everyone or just care home residents, she said: “I meant for the care home residents.”

However, she later told BBC Breakfast that visitors would still be expected to wear PPE to protect residents even if visiting rules are relaxed.

She said they still needed to see whether the vaccine stops people being infectious, adding: “Visiting will be taken step by step and we will, for instance, when people come back to more normal visiting, still be asking people to use PPE and follow those kinds of procedures.”

“Where CQC are aware of blanket visiting bans in homes with no outbreaks, this may trigger an inspection,” she said.

She was responding to a plea from family groups for a firm deadline for the unlocking of care homes that are still refusing visits.

It comes after leaders of six organisations including Age UK signed a joint statement saying risks must be weighed against the harm caused by lengthy isolation and separation from families.

“If we delay any longer, many residents will have waited more than a year to see and touch their loved ones,” they said.

On a visit to a vaccination centre in West Yorkshire, on February 1, Mr Johnson said “virtually all” elderly care home residents had received their first vaccine or been given an appointment for it.

By the end of January, some 95 per cent of care homes for older people in England had been able to get all their residents vaccinated, according to a poll by the National Care Forum.

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