Clarity needed over care home visits, MPs told

Vic Rayner, executive director, NCF

A clear plan on how visits in care homes will take place needs to be set out, the executive director of the National Care Forum has told a group of MPs.

Speaking to the health and social care committee on Tuesday morning, Vic Rayner said it was ‘unhelpful’ to have an announcement on visiting without a plan that sits behind it.

Over the weekend the government announced it would be piloting regular testing of family and friends of people living in care homes. Yesterday, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said he hoped Covid-19 testing would be available to allow visits in care homes in England by Christmas.

Rayner told the committee care home organisations had been ‘inundated’ with relatives wanting to know when visits would be able to take place. ‘Clearly, there is a real resource issue because in order to administer tests onsite you need to be trained and you need to be supported to do that. You need to be able to communicate to people who test positive and are unable to carry out the visit. It’s not a straightforward process.’

She said it was unfair to ‘flex staff’ on a never-ending basis asking them to take on new responsibilities, even though many wanted to make it happen. ‘We just need to get that plan really clear so everybody’s clear in their expectations and understanding of what reality will be,’ the committee was told.

Rayner was giving evidence to an inquiry into workforce burnout and resilience in the NHS and social care. She told MPs staff went into the pandemic with ‘very high levels of pressure and stress’ and the number of deaths in care homes would have added to this.

‘Supporting people through that very last period of their life is incredibly stressful and emotional for everyone. Many of the things they might have previously been able to do in terms of going to funerals…having time to grieve…and bereavement was just not possible because of the pressure to continue on,’ she said.

Rayner said there had been ‘huge pressure’ on staff to cover shifts and work extra hours, with very little time to concentrate on their own wellbeing.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said there had been a ‘very significant surge’ in demand for its services from across the public, adding he was ‘particularly concerned about social care’.