Hertfordshire councillor calls for ‘kinder’ approach to care home visiting in pandemic

Councillor Roma Mills raised her concerns at a meeting of Hertfordshire’s health scrutiny committee

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 12:23 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 12:24 pm

Hertfordshire councillor Roma Mills has put out a plea for a ‘kinder and more compassionate’ approach to care home visiting, as the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme gathers pace.

Easing of Covid-19 restrictions from last week (March 8) had promised to make it easier for relatives to visit their loved ones in care homes, said independent Cllr Mills, who is also policy and engagement manager for Carers in Hertfordshire.

But she told a meeting of Hertfordshire’s health scrutiny committee on Tuesday, March 16, that it was still “incredibly restrictive”.

Hertfordshire County Council offices

And she asked whether second doses of the vaccine would facilitate a ‘kinder and more compassionate’ approach to care home visiting.

Following a presentation on the ongoing vaccination programme in the county, she said: ” . . . we were promised by the Prime Minister that visiting into care homes would open up on March 8.

“It is still incredibly restrictive – and families are still very distressed by their inability to have regular visits or visits without being gloved and masked and aproned up.

“[…] “When they come around for a second vaccination, is there any hope that we can see a kinder approach here?

“I am afraid people at the moment are very, very disappointed with what looked like good news – but which actually is still extremely restrictive.”

In raising the issue, Cllr Mills also highlighted the long-term effects of such a long time without ‘real’ contact on the mental health of care home residents and their family carers. And she called on councillors to lobby on their behalf.

Dr Jane Halpin, joint chief executive officer of the Herts and West Essex ICS and the CCGs, who delivered the vaccination update to the committee, said that with uncertainty around the impact the vaccine had on transmissibility it was understandable that infection control precautions remained.

“What we know about vaccination is that it reduces the rate of serious infection and reduces the risk of death,” said Dr Halpin.

“What we don’t know yet is the extent to which it impacts directly on transmissibility of infection.

“From what we can see from the early data it’s certainly having a positive impact on that spread – but that’s different from being confident that it prevents spread in any sort of high level way.

“So I think the first thing to say is whilst there is continuing uncertainty it is understandable – albeit not desirable in a social or emotional sense – that infection control precautions are maintained.

“We would not want- having come so far and done so well to protect some of our most vulnerable – to lose those gains.”

Dr Halpin also said there was uncertainty weather older people would get the same level of benefit from the vaccine as a younger patient.

And she said: “There still a lot of uncertainty […] and I think it’s because of that that the relaxation of the very stringent restrictions around visiting are moving at a very small and measured pace at the moment.”

Meanwhile the county council’s executive member for adult care and health Cllr Richard Roberts said that the council had been working with the Hertfordshire Care Providers Association to open up visiting in care homes – even before the Prime Minister’s announcement.

He said he had been among those advocating for a kinder and more caring approach to visiting – to open up for visiting as much as possible to allow contact.

But he acknowledged that the pandemic was still a live issue.

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