Julie Morgan MS, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services
The pandemic has had an enormous impact on all our lives – but particularly for people living in care homes and their families.
Many people have been separated from their wider family for months at a time and have not been able to have visitors, because of the strict restrictions on visiting in care homes, which are needed to protect residents from the risks of contracting coronavirus.
This has been one of the most difficult areas to try and achieve a balance between protecting people’s physical health and emotional wellbeing. These measures are necessary because we know how devastating coronavirus outbreaks in care homes can be. But we also know restrictions on visiting have caused distress for residents and their families and they have affected people’s wellbeing.
The public health situation is improving, thanks to all the hard work and sacrifices made by people across Wales over the last few months.
The latest data shows that cases of coronavirus in the community have fallen to around 53 cases per 100,000 people however, the highly infectious Kent strain of the virus is now the dominant strain of the virus in Wales.
Information from Care Inspectorate Wales shows the number of care homes to declare cases of Covid-19 is also falling – there were 173 (16.5%) adult care homes in Wales with one or more confirmed cases of Covid-19 in staff or residents in the past 20 days. This is a fall of 6.2% compared to the last report issued two weeks earlier.
Our vaccination programme is also going from strength to strength – thanks to the enormous efforts of thousands of people across Wales over the last 12 weeks. Take-up of vaccination has been incredibly high among care home residents at more than 94% for the first dose and 84% among care home staff.
Following the last three-week review of the coronavirus regulations, the First Minister said we would be re-examining the guidance on care home visiting, to see whether more care home visits could be supported. Over the last fortnight, we have been working with Public Health Wales, local authorities, care home provider representatives and members of our care home visiting stakeholder group to consider how we can support a risk-based approach to enable indoor care home visiting to resume, where it is safe to do so.
We have always emphasised the importance of a risk-assessed approach. Public Health Wales will be leading a webinar for the sector next week on the subject of risk assessments, with a particular focus on visits.
My intention is that we should be able to announce that routine indoor visiting by a single, designated visitor will be able to resume from March 13, as part of the package of wider measures being considered for the three-week review.
Throughout the pandemic, care home providers have strived to maintain contact between their residents and their families, while operating within the wider restrictions in place. This has not been easy and I applaud their hard work and innovation.
To help care homes support visiting and social contact between residents and relatives, we will be working with Age Cymru to pilot an approach to the development of volunteering in care homes. We have all seen the vital role that volunteers have played in the response to the pandemic and I am keen to capitalise on this.