You may have seen an article on BBC Points West yesterday, in which Jane Smith was featured in relation to the distress caused by the current visiting regulations. We completely understand how distressing it can be to not be able to visit your loved ones and the sacrifices that families have been forced to make during this pandemic. Like everyone, we can’t wait to welcome visitors back as soon as we’re allowed.
We were asked for comment by the BBC before the TV article was made, which you can read in full below:
Firstly it would be totally improper to comment on the health issues of one of our residents so I can’t enter into discussion on Mrs Hookway’s individual condition. I can state that there is no evidence to suggest that any of our residents has deteriorated in health due to lack of visiting, although that has been a big concern nationally so we watch out for it in liaison with our medical support. However, whilst I am confident that no one has suffered a decline in health, would they be happier to have visits from families and friends? Yes, of course. We normally have an open door policy and residents can have visitors at any time so its hard to move back from that – we can’t wait to go back to it. However, we can’t take risks with residents lives and we have to follow advice to be prudent and cautious.
In the case of Mrs Hookway’s daughter, Jane Smith, she has been visiting her mother throughout but has needed to take the precautions that are necessary to keep everyone as safe as possible. When lockdown first started all visits were stopped. In July we were able to introduce outside visits in our gazebo, then in September we constructed a visiting pod that meant a visitor could meet with a resident with no danger of contamination. In October Jane was able to visit her mother in her room but had to comply with the rules to keep 2m distance and to wear appropriate PPE. Those rules were relaxed a little in December when testing was introduced. When the latest lockdown was introduced at the beginning of January, Jane made window visits to see her mother from outside. In late January the home suffered an outbreak and was instructed by the Public Health Team to close to outside visitors totally. Throughout the lockdown we still maintained contact between residents and families by means of Skype and telephone. We would love to be back to open visiting but we have to do everything we can to reduce the odds of the virus getting in. Our vulnerable residents rely on us to keep them safe. We totally accept that Jane would like to spend more time with her mother, that would be terrific, but we have to make sure the safety of ALL our residents is maintained too.
There is a delicate balance to be held between the freedom and increased well being of visiting and the danger of becoming infected with Covid-19, a virus that is exceptionally deadly to the elderly and frail, the very people who reside at Windmill House. Every action we have taken has been under the guidance of Public Health England and the Government guidelines and we have been continually monitored and advised by the professionals. We all know that this has been a moving scenario and we have needed to change with it as knowledge grew, circumstances changed, and guidance was revised. Some of our residents families think we have been too harsh on restricting visiting whilst others feel we are too soft and should keep locked down completely to reduce the spread of the virus into the home. We have tried at all times to keep that balance with the best interests of our residents in mind. Our staff have worked tirelessly to provide the best possible care and quality of life for our residents whilst keeping them safe from the virus. We have been in a Blitz Spirit situation and without being able to bring in outside entertainers have made our own fun. One of the success stories that we had was that staff signed up to work extra hours to ensure no outside agency staff were needed and another layer of risk was avoided. At times some of the team, including the management team, were working very long hours indeed. It is the Registered Home manager that bears the brunt of the issue, trying to keep everyone safe – and happy. It is an unenviable position to be in and highly pressured. This has been reflected in many similar stories across the country.
It is not possible to be 100% sure of keeping the virus out of anywhere. Care homes have been devastated by outbreaks across the whole of the UK, and hospitals are hotbeds. All we can do is reduce the odds as much as we can. This means following the Government and PHE guidelines, being vigilant with infection control and wearing PPE (pretty uncomfortable for all day use) to keep the odds low. Limiting visiting is an essential tool in reducing footfall into the home. It is not what anyone wants to do but we want to keep everyone alive.
Due to exceptional hard work, strict infection control policies and the following of PHE guidance, Windmill House had no resident infections at all until 27th January – despite 5 members of staff testing positive before that. At that time, no one is able to be sure why, the virus got into the home and since then 21 staff and 21 residents have tested positive. This is an abject lesson of how easily the virus can spread once it gets a toehold. Fortunately the Home Manager had managed to get the vaccination programme brought forward and on 14 January all residents received their first dose, some 13 days before the first case was confirmed. We think this timely event has saved everyone from the worst effects. Sadly one of our residents succumbed to the virus, however, remarkably, all of the others have suffered minimal symptoms and have recovered. The vast majority of the positive tested staff have also now completed their isolation and are returning to work. We are still working with PHE to ensure we have stopped the spread and cannot relax our guard but there is light at the end of the tunnel and we are looking forward to being able to gradually release our restrictions and then to the day we can invite our family and friends back into the home.
The current rules around care home visiting in South Gloucestershire – which change regularly and are due to be updated from the 8th March – are shown below.
“National guidance is that visits to care homes can take place during the period of national restrictions, with arrangements such as substantial screens, visiting pods, or behind windows. However for the safety of loved ones, close contact indoor visits supported by lateral flow testing cannot take place. These restrictions currently remain in place.
To clarify, visits should only take place:
- Outdoors – which can include at a window
- In a visiting pod or similar type of arrangement where there is a separating screen and no shared air space
- Indoors, as long as there is a separating screen between the resident and visitor so that there is no close contact and no shared air flow
- In exceptional circumstances, including end of life (which we define locally as the last 2-3 days of life*)
*Visits in exceptional circumstances such as end of life should always be supported and enabled. The South Gloucestershire Council Care Provider Oversight Group has considered what should constitute as end of life visits should be facilitated if the resident is in their last 2-3 days of life.”
Len Collacott – Managing Director, Windmill Care