Care homes to end mask-wearing rule as caregivers given autonomy

In a major announcement expected on Thursday, Care Minister Helen Whately will relax rules to ensure visiting at Christmas is as personal as possible. Current guidance states face masks should be worn by all carers and encouraged for visitors, irrespective of whether the person being cared for is known or suspected to have Covid. Known as “universal masking”, it helps prevent the spread of infection.

But new rules will see homes given autonomy over when masks should be worn, and outbreak measures deployed, with individual risk assessments. The move comes after campaigners lobbied the Department of Health for many months.

But some worry the updated guidance means little in reality, as it can be ignored without recourse.

Those who have been allowed into homes for visits only if they wear masks have complained they inhibit communication and make hugging, kissing and closeness virtually impossible.

The new guidance makes clear they should only be worn when necessary.

Saturday marks 1,000 days since lockdown was first imposed. In another twist for relatives, some homes still refuse loved ones entry.

Since March, official guidance has stated there should be no restrictions on access.

Officially, some 200 care homes continue to refuse or limit visits, but the real number is thought to be much more because not all the UK’s 15,000 registered care homes and 250 hospital trusts fully report visiting arrangements.

The scandal prompted Ms Whately, who was banned from seeing her seriously ill mother while she was in intensive care, to act.

She said two per cent are either not allowing visits, or only in exceptional circumstances, and promised to force homes to fully open up. She added: “If legislation is the right way to do this, that will be on the table.”

Helen whately – Care Minister

The darkest days of the pandemic are thankfully behind us.

For most people, Covid restrictions are a memory and life is back to normal – but not for those in care homes or being cared for at home.

For them, many of the people they see are still wearing masks.

It’s a barrier to communication. And it gets in the way of a smile that could brighten the day.

Masks make it hard to understand what people are saying. For deaf people, it makes it impossible to lip-read.

That’s about to change. Whether care workers have to wear masks will be the decision of the care home or care agency.

They know best who is at greater risk if they catch Covid, and who finds it hardest to hear or may be upset by carers masked.

But vaccination remains our best defence against the virus and flu, so we’re still asking everyone eligible to get their jabs.

Imagine friends and family still coming into your home wearing masks. In care homes, this is still a reality.

I know staff will welcome the chance to – once again – give the people they care for a simple but precious thing. A smile.

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