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Scottish provider says relaxation of visiting rules is ‘premature’ and ‘ill-thought-out’

13 October, 2020

Scottish care home provider Balhousie Care Group has criticised the timing of the Scottish Government’s announcement relaxing care home visiting rules, delivered as Covid-19 cases are reported to be rising rapidly.

While it supports enhanced visits for residents and the health and wellbeing benefits that accompany them, Balhousie said it would not relax its own visiting rules until there were reassurances of safer and better practices to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus.

The Scottish Government’s announcement yesterday allows for four-hour in-home visits to care homes, hand-holding, and up to six visitors in gardens. Balhousie chairman Tony Banks said the announcement was premature and ill-thought-out.

“While we welcome improved and enhanced care home visits, and fully appreciate the wellness benefits more visits would bring our residents, why, in the middle of another sharp spike in community transmissions of Covid-19, would we relax our rules and put our residents and staff at possible risk of infection?,” said Mr Banks.

“Scotland’s care homes went through hell in the spring during the first Covid-19 spike. I never want to put our residents, families or staff through that again. We need assurances that what happened then will not be repeated. That includes efficient, accurate testing of our staff, with timely results, as well as testing of visitors before entry to our homes.”

Mr Banks, who has publicly shared his frustrations over his staff’s Covid-19 test results taking up to seven days to be returned, said he welcomed health secretary Jeane Freeman’s commitment yesterday to transition care home staff testing from the UK Government to the NHS. “But we need it to happen now,” he said.

“We need to be confident that we are doing all we can to stem possible transmission of the virus. Opening our doors wider only widens the risks. And for us, right now, that is an unacceptable risk.”

In a letter written to relatives yesterday, Balhousie Care Group outlined its support for enhanced visits but said it would continue with only garden and window visits for the time being:

“We feel it is necessary to do this to a timescale that is both practicable and safe,” said the letter.

Mr Banks also expressed his concern that the Scottish Government’s move received the backing of Scottish Care, which represents the care sector in Scotland.

“We made our feelings about enhanced visits known to Scottish Care weeks ago, saying we are not in agreement with relaxing care home visits at a time when the elderly are extremely vulnerable again to the rising transmission rates of the disease,” he said.

“We know we are not the only care operator feeling this way nor the only care operator that has made their feelings known to Scottish Care. Yet as a body Scottish Care have stated their support of yesterday’s announcement, without any consultation with its members.”

Tony Banks

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