Indoor care home visits could resume next week as part of a ” wider package of measures” being considered in the next Welsh Government review of lockdown restrictions.
Julie Morgan MS, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, said the intention is for a “single, designated visitor” to be allowed into Welsh care homes from Saturday, March 13.
She admitted care home visiting was ” one of the most difficult areas to try and achieve a balance between protecting people’s physical health and emotional wellbeing”.
It comes following a sharp decline in the number of positive cases, as well as deaths related to coronavirus, in recent weeks across communities and in Welsh care homes.
She said: “Information from Care Inspectorate Wales shows the number of care homes to declare cases of Covid-19 is also falling. There were 173 (16.5%) adult care homes in Wales with one or more confirmed cases of Covid-19 in staff or residents in the past 20 days. This is a fall of 6.2% compared to the last report issued two weeks earlier.
“Our vaccination programme is also going from strength to strength thanks to the enormous efforts of thousands of people across Wales over the last 12 weeks. Take-up of vaccination has been incredibly high among care home residents at more than 94% for the first dose and 84% among care home staff.
“Following the last three-week review of the coronavirus regulations, the First Minister said we would be re-examining the guidance on care home visiting to see whether more care home visits could be supported.
“Over the last fortnight, we have been working with Public Health Wales, local authorities, care home provider representatives and members of our care home visiting stakeholder group to consider how we can support a risk-based approach to enable indoor care home visiting to resume, where it is safe to do so.”
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She added: “We have always emphasised the importance of a risk-assessed approach. Public Health Wales will be leading a webinar for the sector next week on the subject of risk assessments, with a particular focus on visits.
“My intention is that we should be able to announce that routine indoor visiting by a single, designated visitor will be able to resume from March 13 as part of the package of wider measures being considered for the three-week review.”
The Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services said that throughout the pandemic, care home providers have “strived” to maintain contact between their residents and their families, while operating within the wider restrictions in place.
“This has not been easy and I applaud their hard work and innovation,” she said.
“To help care homes support visiting and social contact between residents and relatives, we will be working with Age Cymru to pilot an approach to the development of volunteering in care homes. We have all seen the vital role that volunteers have played in the response to the pandemic and I am keen to capitalise on this.”
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The total number of deaths related to Covid-19 reported in January among care home residents was 465 – the highest amount in a single month since the pandemic began. But in February this dropped to 162 which was also lower than November, 2020 (249) and December, 2020 (243).
Since March 16, Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW) has been notified of 1,890 care home resident deaths with suspected or confirmed Covid-19, making up 23% of all reported deaths. The overall death rate involving all illnesses and injuries was 34% higher than those reported for the same time period in the previous 12 months.
The latest Welsh Government figures also revealed that 55 (5.2%) out of 1,048 adult care homes in Wales notified CIW of one or more confirmed cases of the virus among staff or residents in the past seven days – a sharp decrease compared to 87 (8.3%) in the seven days up to February 12.
Mrs Morgan added: “The pandemic has had an enormous impact on all our lives – but particularly for people living in care homes and their families.
“Many people have been separated from their wider family for months at a time and have not been able to have visitors, because of the strict restrictions on visiting in care homes, which are needed to protect residents from the risks of contracting coronavirus.
“This has been one of the most difficult areas to try and achieve a balance between protecting people’s physical health and emotional wellbeing. These measures are necessary because we know how devastating coronavirus outbreaks in care homes can be. But we also know restrictions on visiting have caused distress for residents and their families and they have affected people’s wellbeing.”