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Following the Government’s announcement regarding visiting care homes today, Prime Life Managing Director, James Wood has issued an open letter explaining our approach to this announcement and the safety of our residents and staff. Please read the full letter here…


Visiting a Prime Life Care Home – Update for Relatives

Over the last few months the care sector has been faced with unprecedented challenges in managing the Coronavirus pandemic…the most difficult time I can ever recall for our homes, for our industry and most importantly for all the people who live, work and visit our homes.


We have worked tirelessly to ensure our clients and staff have stayed safe, our staff and supporting volunteers and professionals need commending for their selfless commitment to ensuring the most vulnerable people in our society have been well cared for, and they have my eternal thanks, re-enforced by a £400,000 package of additional one-off benefits provided to our workforce during the Christmas period.


It should also be noted and acknowledged that the impact on you, the relatives and friends of the clients we care for, has been enormous…not being able to visit a loved one is something that no-one could have ever imagined earlier this year, but it has been an almost constant for the last 9 months. We have worked hard to ensure Facetime calls, phone calls and other types of contact has continued but we know it just isn’t the same as that face to face human contact everyone craves and needs, and there is little doubt that decisions to close our care homes to visitors has been one of, if not the hardest decision to make.


We have constantly followed Government guidance to ensure we have maintained safety first, and that remains our key consideration in every decision we’ve made…we have not been immune to the effects of Covid as many of our homes have had positive cases and tragically many clients have succumbed to the illness, but we have maintained safety and at the time of writing have not seen mass outbreaks in our homes. Our aim and expectation is that with good policies and procedures around Infection control, this will continue.


To ensure that we have remained compliant with Government guidance, but to also allow you to begin visiting again we have now successfully installed 56 ‘Visitor Centre’s’ across our group of 60 care homes…an investment of £500,000 to allow relatives to visit loved ones in safety, and in comfort. We know this isn’t the same as a “normal” visit but I am proud that PrimeLife were one of the first corporate care providers to offer this facility and I hope that many of you have enjoyed the use of the Visitor Centre’s…they provide the most effective type of visit as we can ensure safety by limiting access to the interior of our care homes, and as a result of the infection control measures in place whilst people visit we can keep the virus out of our homes, protecting our clients and staff.


That said, we know that there are many clients who cannot access the Visitor Centre’s, either through frailty or mobility, and whilst we have made an exception for people who are approaching the End of Life for families to visit, Government guidance has remained steadfast that care homes cannot re-open for families to visit their loved ones ‘inside’ a care home. Our Visitor Centre’s are classed as being outside our care homes hence they are a fabulous facility, allowing visiting to continue.


The Visiting Centre’s themselves are also restricted in usage, and I wanted to use this letter to clarify some of the ‘facts’ and the ‘reality’ behind the most recent Government announcements around visiting care homes. In recent days, and in eagerness to allow visits to resume in Care Homes, the Government have made numerous public announcements on this matter, the latest being that Care Homes can now re-open its doors to relatives who wish to visit loved ones, in the lead up to Christmas.


The Government have announced that all care homes will receive lateral flow test kits, giving a result in 30 minutes…and if tested negative a family member can then visit the care home…inside the building, inside the clients room or in a safe designated place. The Government announcement states that all care homes will have this facility…and that the number of test kits being provided will allow 2 visitors to visit twice per week in the lead up to Christmas…where a negative result is recorded.


These are positive, much welcomed announcements and whilst we are in full support of this principle, the reality is that the announcement does not provide critically important information which I think you should be aware of, hence I would like to clarify the following facts, all of which can be found in the Guidance note issued to care homes late last night, several hours after a public announcement was made, and only a few hours before ‘visiting’ can begin;


To date Lateral flow test kits have been provided to 2 PrimeLife care homes, 1 other home has received notification they will be sent. 3 homes out of 60. These homes are Phoenix Park in Scunthorpe, Springhill in Accrington and Peaker Park in Market Harborough.

• Only the 385 largest care homes in England will receive lateral flow kits at present…more will follow at an unconfirmed date

• No support is offered in terms of testing…our staff will have to carry out the tests. They are currently untrained and will need training, support, and guidance… the Government are offering this via online learning and fact sheets, which we feel is inadequate bearing in mind the importance of accuracy.

• The home will need a secure testing area, which needs cleaning and sanitising between every test.

• We will need to carry out Quality Assurance testing to ensuresafety and accuracy of the tests. We are ‘instructed’ to quality test the lateral flow kits, 30 in each setting. These test kits need checking against our normal weekly PCR tests (swab tests sent to a specialist Covid tested laboratory) before usage. Peaker Park will receive 675 tests, so less than 4.5% of tests will be quality assured…which we consider to be inadequate.

• We have not been given the assurance that the lateral flow tests are 100% accurate, meaning the risk of use increases the risk of Covid entering our premises.

• If lateral tests are used full PPE and Infection Control measures that are already in place will still be necessary.

• Appointments and limited visiting hours will still be necessary, as will all current restrictions around access to the care home…you will only be allowed to visit in a designated place.


So, the lateral flow tests do not bring an automatic return to normal visiting procedures, and we cannot support the use of them until Quality Assurance and safety measures have been completed. Even when this process is complete, likely 7-10 days due to PCR tests still needing completion for staff, we still have to consider creation of a safe testing area, training for staff, storage of kits which are temperature sensitive and the obvious safety considerations this brings.


It should also be noted that the Government announcement fails to mention the most critical of issues…and that is that any outbreak of Covid, in any care setting, brings about an immediate suspension of visiting…this has not been made clear but is the single biggest issue that has stopped us from broadening visiting. These rules are different depending on where the care home is…enforced by the Local Authorities and local Public Health teams…and any home who records positive Covid cases, in some cases just one, either from a client or staff member, MUST STOP VISITS TAKING PLACE IMMEDIATELY.


Every local authority has a different rule, some enforce a stop on visiting for 14 days, others for 28 days which makes it impossible to set out in this letter, but your care home manager is aware of these local restrictions.


The Government announcement also fails to mention that the two visitors being referred to should be two constant visitors…i.e. the same two people for any/every visit, not any two visitors for any visit.


The constant visitor rule is set by the Government, not by PrimeLife.


So, the announcement’s made by Matt Hancock, on behalf the Government are not only misleading but cause us great concern, as the impression is that you can return to some sort of normalcy around visits, when the reality is that there are still multiple restrictions, and safety concerns to be considered.


By introducing and installing our Visitor Centre’s we have been able to begin face to face visits much earlier and sooner than the vast majority of other homes, and care providers…something we are very proud of, but for now we cannot allow visits to take place INSIDE our care homes, unless in the exceptional circumstance where clients are reaching the end of life, or where a significant deterioration in their mental health is evident and recognised by a GP or health care professional.


You have my absolute assurance that we will continue with visits in our Visitor Centre’s…accommodating as many “safe” visits as possible, following our existing rules and procedures. These visits ensure the safest way to visit, but can only take place where Government, local authority and Public Health criteria can be met. This means a home being Covid free and continuing to be Covid free…and please remember that PrimeLife are not setting these rules, we have a duty and obligation to follow them to ensure safety for all.


We would need at least seven days, more likely ten days to prepare any rollout of lateral flow testing…from the date that those test kits arrive. Please be reminded that as of today only 2 homes out of our total of 60 have received them. Introducing the use of these test kits would mean the loss of our Visitor Centre’s, which would need to be used as testing centres and that is an issue we simply cannot support at present.


I expect that this letter will cause frustration as the belief from many is that things are “going back to normal”…but the reality is that by being pro-active we have been ‘ahead of the game’ with our current visiting arrangements and we do not consider any change to our existing policy either safe, or beneficial at this time. I do hope, however, that setting out our position out in this way offers you re-assurance that the issue is not as straight forward as portrayed on the News and across Social Media, please be assured that we are constantly reviewing our policies and procedures to ensure we can maintain safety as best as we possibly can.


Whilst I understand everyone’s eagerness to visit ‘normally’, especially during the Festive Season, we cannot place our staff and your loved ones at greater risk. I hope you will continue to support our staff and managers by utilising the Visitor Centre’s as regularly as we can accommodate…but please be patient with us, and when visiting please support us by following the rules around PPE and Infection Control, as guided by our staff.

Your support is always appreciated…more so now than ever…and I close by thanking everyone for their ongoing patience and understanding. There is no doubt that things are stabilising and the hope of a vaccine in the New Year is a light at the end of the tunnel, but for now we need everyone’s ongoing help in beating Coronavirus once and for all, and I hope the visiting arrangements in place not only continue to promote the safety we need, but does give you chance to visit loved ones over this most special time of the year.


Thank you all,

James Wood, on behalf of the Directors of PrimeLife Ltd


Dated: Wednesday 2nd December 2020