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BASW backs care home visiting rights as CQC told to ‘get a grip’

MPs demand action to 'restore residents' human rights' ...

Published by Professional Social Work magazine, 5 May, 2021

A parliamentary committee is urging an end to blanket bans on visits to care homes, citing the human rights of residents under Article 8.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has also called on regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to "get a grip" on compliance monitoring and make robust changes. The committee’s findings state:

  • Government guidance must be underpinned by law to protect care home residents’ right to family life
  • It is ‘completely unacceptable’ for care homes to deny residents vital family links by claiming visits are unsafe without doing individualised assessments

Maris Stratulis, national director of BASW England, said: “BASW England supports the proposals of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Our own Test, Safe Access, Promote Rights campaign has been calling for individualised assessments of people’s circumstances to support and enable visits throughout the pandemic.”

The joint committee found there is an “astonishing lack of awareness by the CQC as to whether care homes are complying with guidance allowing visits” and that "new government guidance on low-risk visits provides an opportunity to restore residents’ human rights."

The committee heard distressing evidence from the co-founder of Rights for Residents, Jenny Morrison, who said: “We relatives all feel that we have had to watch for over a year now as our loved ones have deteriorated. It has been like grieving for people who were still alive.”

Others described providers who imposed time restrictions on visiting or forced families to endure "prison-like" visits, permitted only to speak to their relatives through telephones behind plastic screens.

Current guidance states that care homes should not impose blanket bans but should look at visiting on an individual risk assessment basis. But the guidance is not yet law and some care home providers are claiming the risk of lifting blanket bans is still too great.

Report authors state: “The government has a duty to protect the lives of residents in care homes, but it also has an obligation to uphold their right to family life and ensure it is facilitated in practice.”

The committee urges the CQC to "get a grip" and implement robust processes on data collection and monitoring of visits.

Throughout the pandemic, BASW England has called for visits that adhere to human rights legislation, balanced with the need for safe access. Maris Stratulis added: “People living in care homes and those staying or living in settings with restrictive care and treatment arrangements have been subject to unacceptable interference and breaches of their human rights throughout the pandemic. This continues whilst the outside world enjoys levels of freedom and time with family members and loved ones this cannot be allowed to continue.

“Social workers are strong human rights advocates who have also been denied safe access to care and health settings as a result of blanket bans. Over the last 12 months we have heard members’ dismay at being able to effect little change in protecting and upholding human rights in the face of the national guidance resulting in blanket decision making regarding visits.”

The joint committee is calling on the government to implement its draft regulations as soon as possible to make individualised assessment of visits mandatory. This, it hopes, will secure legal protection for care home residents deprived of family visits, and therefore, their human rights.

Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Harriet Harman MP, said: “By not underpinning guidance in law, care homes have not felt bound by it and important rights have therefore not been respected.

“The CQC assurances that visits are being allowed properly now in all homes is wholly unconvincing. Because care homes see guidance about allowing visits as advisory rather than binding, the Government must now bring forward regulations to give their guidance on visits legal force.”