An advocacy group for older people in nursing homes is calling on care facilities to “hold the line” and keep visits to residents open as much as possible amid increasing Covid-19 cases.
Sarah Lennon, executive director of Sage Advocacy, said the group has received reports from residents' families of nursing homes reintroducing restrictions on visiting.
She said some nursing homes have reimposed restrictive visiting again such as window visits, which can be a source of great distress for elderly residents who are hard of hearing.
Sage Advocacy is concerned that as new case numbers rise well above 3,000 a day that further restrictions will be imposed across nursing homes.
“There has definitely been a pick-up in calls from family members saying that there has been restrictions on visits. Families are finding it harder to visit and window visits are back,” she said.
“The case numbers are expected to go to 4,000 in the next few days and there is fear and concern out there among families. We are asking nursing homes to hold the line and keep visiting open as much as possible.”
The nursing home sector has been anticipating an update to health guidelines on visits to residential care facilities which were last changed in July to normalise visiting arrangements.
Care facilities are expecting the updated health guidelines to cover checks on Covid-19 vaccine certificates and the vaccination status of visitors to nursing homes.
The July guidelines state that residents can have four visits per week by up to two people at one time where there is no outbreak and a high level of vaccination in the nursing home.
There are no specific limits where compassionate grounds apply.
Ms Lennon said some nursing homes have introduced their own restrictions due to outbreaks of the disease in this fourth wave of infections and rising case numbers in the community.
Covid-19 cases in nursing homes have risen in line with increased infections in the community.
There were between 10 and 13 new weekly outbreaks in nursing homes in the first three weeks of October before they halved to six in the last week of the month, data shows.
The number of linked cases that week fell to 15 from 87 the previous week, an early trend that suggests the benefit of vaccine booster doses to the over-65s in nursing homes is having an effect.
Ms Lennon said visitor restrictions cannot be a “go-to measure” to prevent infections beyond the booster programme.
“If we are going to be living with Covid, we need a better plan than locking up nursing homes,” she said.
Tadhg Daly, chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, the representative body for private nursing home operators who make up 80 per cent of the sector, said that maintaining communication between care home managers and families was key to maintaining regular visits.
“People are definitely being more vigilant. We have said all along that visiting is an important part of the daily life of a resident of the nursing home, but at the same time balancing the risk of Covid and the wishes of everybody for people to receive visitors is tricky,” he said.
Mr Daly said visitor footfall through nursing homes was the challenge. He referred to one nursing home in Waterford – where the rate of infection is twice the national average – that had informed him of having more than 300 people through its doors in one week.
“There is a risk every day when we go out in the current climate. That is the reality. What we are trying to do collectively is to manage the balance,” he said.
“Nursing homes are so, so anxious to get back to pre-pandemic or normal times. But equally, if there is an outbreak, the first thing you are asked is did you have large numbers through the doors. People need to be understanding of that balance.”