Care home visits must be allowed to continue in the second national lockdown, experts have said.
More than 60 organisations and experts have called on the Government to enable visits to care homes to continue.
They said banning visits is “intrinsically harmful” and causes “extreme anguish”.
In an open letter to Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, the 60 organisations, researchers, professionals and bodies representing relatives, carers and providers, brought together by the National Care Forum, said that prohibiting visits denies residents their human rights.
They said that as the Government finalises regulations for the national lockdown, it must be the “default position” that care homes are open for visiting.
The letter states: “Care homes must be supported to enable visits by families and loved ones, now and in the future.
“We can no longer stand by and watch the erosion of people’s human rights and the impact of isolation through the effective blanket bans on visiting in care homes.
“We know that isolation caused by restrictions on visits from loved ones is intrinsically harmful and we have heard over and again the extreme anguish that this is causing.”
They said that, since the first lockdown in March, more is understood about virus transmission and safety measures.
The authors added: “People in care homes and their loved ones in the community have fundamental human rights, both as individuals and as a community, and a ban on visiting denies those rights.
“Visitors are more than people who make mere social calls into a care home – often they are spouses, children or long-held friends, who play a fundamental role in the everyday care of residents.
“In particular, for older people, remember that the average length of stay in a care home is two years. After eight months of visitor restrictions – we cannot continue like this – there is simply not enough time for many of those living in care homes today to watch and wait.”
They said a blanket ban on visiting is not backed by evidence.
“The current tiered approach has already placed 50% of care homes and their residents under a default of blanket visiting restrictions,” they added.
“This cannot remain the accepted position.”
Mitigation measures to allow visits to continue could include testing of visitors, enabling a “key visitor” who is eligible for regular testing, personal protective equipment and training, and supporting care homes to make Covid-secure visiting spaces.
Signatories of the letter include academics, the charities Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society, the Care Provider Alliance, the British Geriatrics Society and the Royal Society of Public Health.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We know limiting visits in care homes has been incredibly difficult for many families, but our first priority remains the prevention of infections to protect the lives of vulnerable residents.
“We have introduced tightened infection prevention and control measures to enable visits to continue safely where possible, but have had to limit visiting in all but exceptional circumstances for areas with high rates of infection.”