Influx of care home ‘safeguarding’ issues possible as family visits return, warns support group

There could be an influx of “safeguarding issues” from care homes in Northern Ireland once family visits get back to normal, the head of a support group has said.

Friday, 30th April 2021, 6:30 am
Strict lockdown rules mean care home residents have little contact with families

Julieann McNally, who heads the Care Home Advice and Support Northern Ireland (CHASNI) organisation, is amongst those pushing for the coronavirus restrictions on care home visiting to be relaxed.

She told the News Letter that families have already begun to raise concerns about safeguarding – the actions taken to ensure vulnerable people are protected from harm or neglect – in care homes since strict lockdown rules preventing visitors were relaxed back in September.

Currently, residents can receive visits from only one designated ‘care partner’ due to the strict controls in place.

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Ms McNally, whose late grandmother Annie was a resident in a care home that was subject to a damning report in 2018 by Older People’s Commissioner Eddie Lynch that found a catalogue of “inhuman and degrading treatment” towards residents, was speaking ahead of an expected update to the visiting guidelines from Stormont.

Last month, Mr Lynch expressed concern about “possible human rights breaches” due to care home residents being kept away from their families and friends due to the restrictions on visiting.

Ms McNally said: “We have the care partner scheme in place in Northern Ireland, which has been in place since September last year, but there are large numbers of families that still aren’t accessing meaningful, face-to-face contact with their loved ones.

“What we mean by meaningful contact is that it isn’t behind a screen, or behind a pod, that it is in the room in order for the care partner to support them emotionally, physically and so on.”

Earlier this week, DUP MP Carla Lockhart urged the Health Minister Robin Swann to “find a way” to allow for care home residents to see their family and friends more often.

Mr Swann announced on Wednesday evening that new guidance that will facilitate increased visiting is being finalised.

“I fully recognise the desire for more visiting,” he said.

Ms McNally added: “The families that we’re supporting have been really involved in the engagement around the new guidance. We have pushed with everything we have around the isolation, around family members being locked in.

“We hope with all that we have that the 14-day isolation period that is currently in England’s guidance won’t be in ours.

“What that means in practice is that people say ‘there’s no way I’m going to take mummy out if it means she’s going to be in isolation for 14 days’.

“We’re seeing huge concerns around families that are getting back in – there are safeguarding issues, for example.

“It is often the family members that are the eyes and ears to point out the issues. Potentially, we are going to see an influx of safeguarding issues once families do get back in the door.”