Care homes and coronavirus

We explain the current guidance for visiting a person with dementia in a care home and how some things may be different since coronavirus (Covid).

Page contents

  1. Visiting policies for care homes
  2. Coronavirus requirements for care home visitors
  3. Covid testing and care homes
  4. Challenging a decision on care home visiting
  5. Face coverings and social distancing in care homes
  6. Isolating care home residents with Covid
  7. What happens if there is an outbreak of Covid in a care home?
  8. End of life visiting in a care home

If you have a question or concern about the arrangements in a particular care home, or that isn’t covered here, speak to the care home manager.

1. Visiting policies for care homes

Each care home will have their own visiting policy. This should be made available and communicated to residents and families. You can also read national guidance from the government on visiting care homes in:

Care homes will work to support visits safely, while focusing on each resident’s needs. The home should also agree on a visiting plan with you, as part of the person’s care plan.

There is no limit on the number of visitors a care home resident can have. There should also be no limit on how long visits can last, as long as visiting can be kept safe.

Government guidance says that visits should be in a place that is most practical and comfortable for the resident. For example, residents with dementia may be more comfortable in their own room with familiar belongings.

Residents can also visit others outside the home, as long as care home staff agree that it’s safe to do so.

2. Coronavirus requirements for care home visitors

Government guidance does not require any visitors or the resident to have had the Covid or flu vaccines for visits to go ahead, though this is strongly recommended.

You should avoid visiting if you’ve been in close contact with someone else who has tested positive for coronavirus.

Visitors should also not enter care homes if they are feeling unwell to avoid passing other illnesses to residents.

3. Covid testing and care homes

Testing care home visitors

Visitors who are providing personal care to a resident will be asked to test for coronavirus up to twice a week. If you are asked to test before a visit, the care home may provide a test for you, or you might prefer to buy a test yourself beforehand.

In England, visitors who are not providing personal care to a resident do not need to test before they visit. Many homes are still asking visitors to take a test, to protect the safety of residents and staff.

If you test positive, you will not be able to visit that day. Even though you’re no longer required by law to self-isolate if you have Covid in England, you are still advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people.

Testing residents in a care home

Care home residents who have symptoms of coronavirus have access to free lateral flow testing to check if they have Covid. 

Read our summarised information on what people affected by dementia need to know about the Covid vaccines.

Testing new care home residents

The NHS will do a Covid test within 48 hours before a person is discharged into a care home from hospital. If an individual tests positive, they can be admitted to the care home if the home feels they can be cared for safely. They should be isolated on arrival for 10 days.

Testing care home staff

Care home staff should test for Covid twice a week. If one or more positive cases (staff or resident) are found in a care home, then all staff should test every day that they are working, for five days. 

4. Challenging a decision on care home visiting

Government guidance states that visiting must be supported and enabled whenever it is possible and safe to do so. Complete bans on visitors are not acceptable.

You should try to resolve any issues by talking with the care home manager first. You could also make a formal complaint to the care home using their complaints procedure – which they must tell you about.

If you then need to challenge a decision, you should contact the adult social services team in your local council first.

Alternatively, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has regulatory powers that can be used if you have concerns over visiting. You can contact the CQC online or by calling 03000 616161.

If the issue remains unresolved, you can complain to the local authority if they are paying for the care. If the care is self-funded, you can complain to the local government and social care ombudsman.

5. Face coverings and social distancing in care homes

Care homes work to keep residents safe and well. Staff follow strict hygiene practices. If you are providing personal care to a resident you will need to wear PPE (protective coverings) during your visit. Ask the care home to guide you on the appropriate PPE for the situation.

The government advises that all visitors to care homes should wear face masks. In some circumstances – where this causes distress to a resident, visitors can remove face masks when they are not in communal areas of the care home.

Some care home staff may wear masks and this may be unsettling for people with dementia, who can’t see familiar faces. Staff will be reassuring and may attach a labelled photo of themselves to their front, to make it easier for people to see who they are. 

If you want physical contact – such as holding hands, care staff should help to make this possible.

6. Isolating care home residents with Covid

To help prevent the virus from spreading, any care home resident who tests positive for coronavirus or has coronavirus symptoms will have to isolate.

A care home will need to isolate just a single person with coronavirus in their own room. Here, staff in PPE provide support such as with activities or eating – that would normally take place in shared areas of the home.

A person with dementia may find isolation like this particularly difficult. They may not understand or may forget that they need to stay in their room. Or they may be used to walking about. The home may be able to set up ways for them to do this safely.

Current guidance suggests that if there are multiple cases of residents who have tested positive for coronavirus, they should ideally be isolated in their own rooms. But if necessary, people can temporarily be placed in a shared room with others who also have the virus.

7. What happens if there is an outbreak of Covid in a care home?

A Covid outbreak in a care home is when there are two or more cases of Covid in the home, and their symptoms started within 10 days of each other.

If a care home has an outbreak of Covid-19, it needs to go into outbreak measures. This must last for 10 days since the onset of symptoms of the most recent case, subject to a risk assessment by the health protection team.

If a care home is in outbreak measures:

  • Every resident is still allowed a visit from one person.
  • You should be able to continue visits outdoors, in visiting pods or through windows, as long as the care home can accommodate it.
  • General indoor visits should stop until the measures have been lifted.

8. End of life visiting in a care home

End-of-life visiting should always be supported, even during an outbreak. Covid testing is not required in any circumstances for an end-of-life visit at a care home.

See also our information on end of life care for a person with dementia.

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