We know that over the course of the pandemic many people who live in care homes will have faced exceptionally difficult circumstances, being unable to be with the people they love, and it has often been hard for loved ones unable to visit or spend important time with them while homes have limited or restricted visitors. The Department of Health and Social Care released new guidance on the 31 January 2022 which lifts visiting restrictions in care homes. Our expectation remains that care homes follow government guidance - which is now to ensure visiting is unrestricted and we will follow up in instances where we are made aware that this may not be happening.
We know the majority of providers are making every effort to follow the latest guidance and we have made clear to them that if something changes and they are no longer able to do this then they should speak with their CQC inspector as soon as possible.
We have continued to investigate concerns we hear about providers not following government guidance on visiting. Our regulatory approach is risk based so that we can focus on providers where we have reason to be concerned. We continue to monitor providers where we have information regarding concerns about visiting.
Where we identify visiting concerns we have introduced a process to rigorously review evidence so that swift and appropriate regulatory and enforcement actions are taken to ensure people are supported to have visitors.
From 1 December 2021 we have received visiting concerns regarding 189 services, of which 82 were allegations of blanket bans. We have reviewed every concern raised with us and taken action where needed, including following up with providers, inspecting, raising safeguarding alerts where applicable and following up with local authorities.
Kate Terroni, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at CQC said:
"The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on many people and we know it has been particularly difficult for those who are living in care homes and their families and loved ones. It is so important that people are able to spend crucial time with the people they love.
"We have taken decisive action throughout the pandemic to help keep people safe in care settings including undertaking over 12,000 inspections, and making absolutely clear to providers that not following government guidance is unacceptable and may trigger an inspection. Where concerns have been raised with us in relation to visiting we have, taken a range of action, including following up with providers, inspecting, taking regulatory action and where applicable, raising safeguarding alerts with local authorities.
"We continue to seek assurances from care home providers about how they are supporting visiting to happen and we are verifying this information when we go out and inspect and will continue to do so. We have introduced a mandatory question on each of our care home inspections which looks at how visiting is being supported to happen in a safe way."
We have also expanded our Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) inspections to gather information on visiting practices, and we have increased the number of IPC inspections over the winter months.
CQC does not however have the power, under the legislation given to us by Parliament, to compel care homes to inform us of any changes to their visiting status. Similarly, under our legislation we do not have the power to require care homes to report live data on levels of visiting, neither do we have the power to take action against those care homes that are not reporting changes to their visiting status to us.
As part of our updated monitoring approach, we ask providers how they are facilitating visits to people living at the home in accordance with current care home visiting guidance, or where this is not possible, what the reasons are for this, and how they are enabling other forms of contact. These questions focus on how the provider supports people particularly at risk from the impact of social isolation; asking how the provider has considered protected characteristics. To corroborate reports from providers we work with our Experts by Experience who talk to residents, their loved ones and friends, and help to enhance the evidence gathering performed by inspectors in their monitoring of a service.
Our Experts by Experience are members of the public from diverse backgrounds who play a vital role in our regulation of health and care services. They bring their personal knowledge and experience of services to help us with our inspections and other key aspects of our work.
If you, a loved one or someone you care for would like to raise a concern about visiting in registered care locations, or about any other matter involving a person's care, you can let us know by filling out our Give feedback on care form, or call our contact centre on 03000 616161.