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Care home Covid visiting restrictions relaxed in Scotland

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The rules on visiting residents in care homes are to be relaxed, the Scottish government has announced.

Indoor visits will no longer be limited to 30 minutes, and can now last up to four hours.

Visitors will be allowed to hold hands with residents as long as they stick to rules to stop the infection spreading.

And up to six visitors from two households, including children, will be able to attend outdoor visits which can last up to one hour.

Visitors will also be allowed to bring residents gifts and their belongings.

However, visiting will continue to be "restricted to outdoor and essential visits only" in the Glasgow, West and East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire, and North and South Lanarkshire council areas.

image captionThe changes were announced by the health secretary, Jeane Freeman

The changes were announced by the health secretary, Jeane Freeman, during the government's coronavirus briefing.

She said a staged approach was being taken to reintroduce visiting to care homes as safely as possible.

The new guidance also allowed spiritual and faith representatives, hairdressers, pets and therapets to visit care homes again.

The changes will be implemented once care homes are satisfied they can be delivered safely, the Scottish government said.

Ms Freeman added that care homes must be Covid-free for 28 days and have been taking part in weekly testing for all staff to allow these visits.

More "clarity and flexibility" on essential visits was also being provided.

Essential visits should always be permitted with appropriate safety precautions, she said.

They "should be supported to prevent or respond to a lessening in resident's health", "to help communicate when [a resident] is in distress" and to allow a resident to see their family when they are dying.

These visits are "incredibly important for health and wellbeing", Ms Freeman said.

An 'excruciating wait'

The charity Age Scotland said the changes were "a long time coming".

Brian Sloan, chief executive, said it would be the first time family members could hold the hand of their loved ones in almost seven months.

"Their wait has been excruciating," he said.

"We have heard from many families who have been seriously alarmed by the decline in the health of their loved one during lockdown, in part because of enforced isolation to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

"We have been making the case to the Scottish government that every effort must be made to resume indoor visiting as the ongoing risk to the person's health by not doing so is substantial.

"It is essential that increased visits to care homes are now available to everyone, wherever possible."

'Premature move'

As the latest guidance is not clear cut, care homes must ultimately make their own decision on whether to allow relaxation of measures - and not all will be in favour.

GMB Scotland shared the results of a survey of 200 care workers with BBC Scotland's The Nine.

While a majority of care home staff thought visiting should remain a priority in the event of a stricter lockdown (73%), a noticeable chunk (23%) did not support the scenario.

Meanwhile Balhousie Care Group, which runs 25 nursing homes in Scotland, told the programme that it would not permit indoor visits.

The group's chief executive officer Jill Kerr said: "We think it's a premature move by the Scottish government and one that has been made with no consultation with operators.

"It doesn't seem to make sense to be relaxing the rules on care home visits at a time when cases in the community seem to be spiking again."

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