Campaigners have launched a legal challenge against a blanket ban on elderly residents making trips away from their care homes, saying the government’s guidance strips people of their basic rights and effectively turns sheltered accomodation into a “prison”.
Under the rules, which were updated last month, people in residential care over the age of 65 are prevented from leaving home apart from in exceptional cases.
This, campaigners say, prevents residents from enjoying simple activities such as walking in a local park.
Those who are permitted to leave the care home, for example to visit a friend or relative at the end of their life, must self-isolate for 14 days on their return.
John’s Campaign, which has campaigned for the rights of families and care homes residents throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, has launched a legal challenge against the ban and the quarantine rule.
The group said the imposition of a blanket ban, and the failure to communicate and ensure individualised risk assessments are taken for every resident who wishes to make a visit out, is unlawful.
They argue that an individual who is 64 but may suffer from conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to infection could have an individualised risk assessment that would allow them to take a trip out of the home, but an individual aged 66 who may be less vulnerable to infection is not afforded the same right.
In a letter sent to the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the group also questions the requirement to self-isolate, arguing that as care homes now have rapid testing, designated visitors are permitted and residents are vaccinated, the requirement is unnecessary.
Julia Jones, co-founder of John’s Campaign, said: “I am at a loss to understand how the basic right of a person living in a care home to make their own simple choices over a walk in the park, for instance, has been so comprehensively ignored – and denied – over the past 12 months.
“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.”
Nicci Gerrard, also co-founder of the group, called the rules “discriminatory, harmful and wrong”.
She said: “Care homes are not prisons, and people living in them should have the same rights as everyone else in society.
“What’s more, to make them self-isolate for 14 days if they do leave the care home is to cruelly continue to enforce separation from those they love that has blighted too many lives in the past year.”
Tessa Gregory, a partner at law firm Leigh Day, which is supporting the challenge, said: “Care home residents and their families have suffered disproportionately through the pandemic both from the virus itself but also from enforced isolation.
“It is vital that as the rules are relaxed for the general population, care homes residents are not left behind.
“There is no reason, if appropriate precautions are taken, to prevent residents over working age from having much needed visits out and it also cannot be right that if residents do leave their homes they always have to always isolate for 14 days on their return.”
A DHSC spokesperson 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.”