Restrictions on care homes are ‘almost back’ to where they were during the first lockdown.
New measures are being imposed on visitors to residential care settings in a bid to prevent Omicron outbreaks among the most vulnerable.
Only three visitors and one essential care worker will be allowed to see residents under tight controls announced by the health departments.
Fully vaccinated residents visiting family and friends outside the care home will be asked to take a lateral flow test on alternate days for two weeks after each outing, while those not vaccinated will have to isolate following an outside visit.
Staff testing will be increased from two lateral flow tests per week to three, alongside a weekly PCR test.
It is understood the guidance will come into force from Wednesday and, according to officials, is designed ‘to balance the current Covid-19 risk and the need to keep people safe in line with clinical advice’.
The chair of the National Care Association struck a sombre note when discussing the changes and said she was urgently looking for clarification from the government.
Nadra Ahmed called on ministers to set out whether people can change the nominated three people to visit someone who is in a care home.
She told BBC Breakfast: ‘Families are much bigger than [three people], if you’ve got four siblings, five siblings, you’ve got grandchildren, great grandchildren.
‘It was something that we’ve been having to plan for and, of course, now we’re looking at three nominated people. That kind of disempowers anybody else and for the residents, they may have been looking forward to it.
‘We raise expectations on this quite substantially and, of course, we’re almost back to where we were, just slightly better, but almost back to where we were last year.’
James White, head of public affairs and campaigns at Alzheimer’s Society, said the new guidance is ‘deeply concerning’.
He added: ‘More than 70% of care home residents are living with dementia and we know that restricting their contact with loved ones can lead to significant and irreversible deterioration in their symptoms.
‘As we’ve seen from NHS England data released this week, a quarter of care home residents are still waiting for their booster vaccination despite promises that all residents would receive theirs by 1 November.
‘We’re concerned that these suggested plans are being used as a crude sticking plaster due to the failure to meet this vital target.’
The government is ramping up the booster rollout to care home staff and residents and extra funding has been made available to boost pay and fund overtime in the sector until the end of March.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘Throughout the pandemic we have done everything we can to protect the adult social care sector, and the emergence of the Omicron variant means this is more important than ever.
‘This new funding will support our incredible workforce by recruiting new staff and rewarding those who have done so much during this pandemic.
‘Boosting the booster rollout in social care and updating the visiting guidance will help keep the most vulnerable people in our society safe from the virus this winter.’
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