Ban on care home residents taking trips faces legal challenge

By Alison Holt
Social Affairs Correspondent, BBC News

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Image source, Getty Images

Campaigners have started legal action against the government over guidance that bans care home residents in England aged 65 and over from taking trips outside the home.

John's Campaign, of residents and their loved ones, says the ban is unlawful.

They are also challenging the requirement for residents to self-isolate for 14 days after such visits.

The government said its guidance provides a "range of opportunities" for visitors to spend time with loved ones.

Nearly all residents have now had at least one dose of the vaccine, and care homes have been cautiously reopening, allowing indoor visits with designated family or friends.

But the government guidance, updated on 8 March, says trips to see family or friends "should only be considered" for under-65s while national Covid restrictions apply because they increase the risk of bringing Covid into a home.

Visits out for residents, whatever their age, "should be supported in exceptional circumstances such as a visit to a friend or relative at the end of their life", it adds - but on returning to the home, the resident must self-isolate for two weeks.

The legal letter sent to the Department of Health and Social Care by John's Campaign says the decision whether someone can go on a visit outside a care home should be based on individual risk assessments.

To deny this contravenes equality and human rights legislation, the group says.

'Excluded choices'

"The 440,000 people living in care homes include some who moved in through their own volition, with full mental capacity, never guessing that this simple freedom, enjoyed by everyone else in the population, apart from prisoners, could so easily be denied them," campaign co-founder Julia Jones said.

"Those who cannot make their own choices have relatives and friends who would normally be glad to take responsibility but have been excluded choices."

She told the BBC Today programme those in care homes were being discriminated against because of their age and had been "comprehensively ignored".

"The Department of Health, and particularly Public Health England, looks at care home residents as if they are a different species," she said. "These are people living in care homes and they have the range of morbidities, of problems, of disabilities and of capabilities."

Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group, said he hoped the government would provide further guidance for after 12 April, when restrictions are due to ease further, so some visits outside could take place.

"I think the risks of not going out are greater than the risks perhaps of getting the virus," he told Today, but added it was right to be cautious and there had to be "a balance", with an individual risk assessment for each resident.

He said getting care home residents outside "does them the world of good".

The campaigners also say the progress made on vaccinations and testing make the 14-day isolation rules unnecessary.

The pre-action letter asks the DHSC to reply within 14 days, after which the lawyers for the campaigners will decide whether to apply for a judicial review.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: "We know just how crucial visits are in supporting the health and wellbeing of residents.

"Our current guidance provides a range of opportunities for visitors to meet and spend time with their loved ones in a care home under carefully designed conditions to keep everyone safe.

"Residents over 65 can make visits outside of care homes in exceptional circumstances and all decisions in relation to visiting should be made on the basis of a risk assessment centred around the individual. This is made clear in our guidance.

"As we move along the roadmap, we are looking to open up more opportunities for visiting both into and outside of care homes, wherever this can be done safely and is supported by data."

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