Care homes: Helen Whately says she wants to increase visits
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Ms Whately said she hopes care home visits can resume more regularly once residents have had their first Covid vaccine doses. NHS England said the top four priority groups in England – people aged 70 and over, care home residents and staff, health and care workers and clinically extremely vulnerable patients – “have now been offered the opportunity to be vaccinated”, while Wales said those groups had been reached.
Speaking to Sky News, she said: “I really, really want to open up visiting in care homes more.
“To be clear, we have made sure that visiting can continue even during this national lockdown but I recognise it’s not the normal kind of visiting – it’s having to use screens, or visiting pods, or through windows of care homes that don’t have those facilities.
“Also, we have put funding into social care to help care homes have these facilities, and have extra staff if they need to supervise. What I want to do as we come out of the national lockdown is also increase the amount of visiting.
“I don’t see that we have to wait for the second vaccination dose, I want us to open up sooner than that.
“I will say with this, as with this and generally as we come out of lockdown, we do have to be cautious.
“Most residents in care homes have only had their first dose, and some of them only very recently, so it will be step by step.
“I’m determined so that we can see people go back to even if it’s to be able to hold hands again and see somebody who you haven’t been able to see very much in the last few months and over the last year – I really want to make that happen again.”
It comes as one of the UK’s largest care home providers has said it is considering whether staff who have refused a vaccine for non-medical reasons can continue in roles where they are in contact with residents.
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Barchester Healthcare, which runs more than 200 care homes, said it is considering an option where staff make themselves “unavailable for work” in resident/patient-facing roles “by reason of their own decision” on not getting vaccinated.
The group had previously announced that it would not hire new staff if they had not had the vaccine for non-medical reasons, citing the vulnerability of its residents and patients.
The Government has encouraged everyone who is called on to get the vaccine but said it is not mandatory.
Barchester said the recent option has been communicated to staff and no decision has been made.
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A spokesman said: “Our long-term ambition is that all patient and resident-facing staff will have the Covid-19 vaccine in order to protect both themselves and the vulnerable residents and patients in our care, and we have very recently communicated to our teams that one option under consideration is that staff who refuse the vaccine on non-medical grounds will, by reason of their own decision, make themselves unavailable for work.
“This is part of an ongoing dialogue we are having, we are constantly reviewing this as more information is available, and are very aware of concerns around possible discrimination which is in no way our intention.
“We are doing everything possible to ensure fairness whilst also delivering on our duty to protect our residents, patients and staff.”
There are no official figures published on how many health and social care staff have been vaccinated, but the Government said on Monday that around two-thirds of the social care workforce had been jabbed.
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