Covid: Easing of restrictions welcomed in care homes

Covid restrictions for adult social care have been eased, which means visitor restrictions in care homes can be lifted. So what do staff and residents think about the relaxation of the rules?

Care homes faced some of the toughest rules when Covid lockdown measures were introduced in March 2020.

It meant many families were separated for long periods of time to try to limit infections and keep vulnerable people safe. 

More restrictions have now been removed by the government, meaning there is no limit on the number of visitors, self-isolation periods will be cut and care homes will only have to follow outbreak management rules for 14 days, not 28.

'Second Nature'

At Dorrington House in Dereham, Norfolk, deputy manager Francesca Vecchio says it is "very exciting" for residents and staff. 

"But especially the staff because the staff have taken a lot of the load, because the residents have missed their relatives, so they've been doing a lot more emotionally maybe," she says.

Ms Vecchio said when it came to easing of restrictions, it was important to strike a balance.

"You have to be careful because you're dealing with people's lives; these people are vulnerable so I think the government did this to keep these people safe," she says.

"I don't think that they were too harsh, because we have so many people we have to keep safe and think about our staff here too."

But she does think visiting alternatives could have been considered more carefully at the start of the pandemic.

"We could have looked at different visiting for end-of life and palliative care, because that's a very important part and people need to be around," she says.

Ms Vecchio said dealing with Covid is now much easier.

"We're all more equipped for it now. We can work with it [the virus] a bit more. We have the guidance. We have the testing that we follow - it's second nature," she says. 

"Whereas before we were in no-man's land... you didn't know what you were fighting."


'My Stomach always turns over'

Michael Hills, 84, says he will now able to visit his 84-year-old wife Irene at Dorrington House without having to make appointments.

"It feels wonderful. It means I can come over more often," he says.

Mr Hills started courting his wife when they were aged 15. He says he last saw her just before Christmas because of lockdowns and various issues.

"It's been brilliant, really nice, missed her ever so much," he says. 

"We've been retired just under 20 years, lot of time to spend together and it is hard, but we manage." 

The couple have a son, two grandchildren and one great-grandchild. 

Mrs Hills says: "It's not too bad at times, but I missed him more than anything.

"I get things out and I look at them and I think 'it seems ages since I've seen him'.

"My stomach always turns over [in expectation] to see him... I think we're really, really lucky to be that way."


'A more compassionate view on visiting'

Yasamine Watts manages the Florence House care home in Peterborough which has 12 residents.

The home lost several residents who had Covid, prior to her arrival as manager three months ago. 

She says it is "exactly the right time" to ease restrictions in adult social care.

"Obviously in the beginning, it was paramount that we locked down," she says.

"We didn't know about the virus. We didn't have vaccines, but now we know the vaccines are working, it's less dangerous.

"On balance, it's the right time to take a more compassionate view on visiting."

Despite the relaxations, Ms Watts says she would be talking to staff and residents to ensure there isn't "too many people in the building at once", allowing people to still feel safe. 

Swapping PCR tests for lateral flow tests in care homes would also mean they do not have to find staff to administer those tests. 

But "if we get another strain, we will definitely have to bring PCR tests back in", she says.


'We've still got to be careful'

Betty Valentine, 97, moved into Florence House four months ago.

She says "the staff are good" and she likes talking to other residents.

"It's amazing what people come out with. We do get on - that's the main thing," she says.

Ms Valentine says she has not been able to have visits from her grandchildren due to the pandemic but "we expect that" and she has been grateful to be able to go to the park with staff and others.

She had missed seeing her grandchildren, and was looking forward to their visit, "but things have happened and we've just got to put up with it".

"It's very important [to have visitors] even if you have to distance, because being in one place all the while, and no other people, it's very sad," she adds.

"I think in the end it [Covid} will be sorted, but when, how long, I don't know really." 

Her daughter, Sandra Church, 65, who lives in Thaxton, Northamptonshire, says she is a little more reticent about the rules being eased. 

As an extra care-giver she has been able to visit her mother Betty more freely, but has been careful with mixing with others outside the care home. 

She has also had to take PCR and lateral flow tests weekly.

"I'm quite happy about that [easing] in one respect, but I think we've still got to be careful," she says. 

"I know Omicron is less serious, but there are a lot of vulnerable people living here, so I think, quite rightly, Yasamine will do a risk assessment of how many people can come and visit at once.

"Obviously not being able to see family has a big mental health impact on elderly people. But I think we've still got to be careful."