Southwark’s cabinet is being urged to give friends and family members of older people in care homes key worker status to allow for more frequent visits during the pandemic, according to a new report. 

Southwark’s health and adult social care scrutiny commission did a review of care homes “to ensure people in both local and out of borough placements are safe, well and in suitable accommodation”. 

The findings will go before cabinet next week (September 8).  

Though the review was nearly ready pre-Covid-19, the commission included some related recommendations.  As of mid-July, 60 residents of Southwark care homes had died. 

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Following the investigation, the commission set out 13 recommendations, including that plans “must be in place” to manage a second wave of Covid-19 and “the risk of further fatalities by ensuring adequate PPE, testing, and that care homes are not treated as a step-down facility”. 

After the outbreak care home visits were banned – this was recently lifted but residents are restricted to “one constant visitor”, who must book in advance. 

The commission recommended that key worker status be rolled out to family and friends of older people in care homes, starting with people with dementia and moving to other isolated older people, to allow visitation during the pandemic.  

“Everybody has a human right to family life, which includes regular contact,” according to the report. 

The commission also recommended that all homes should have a “clear and well publicised” complaints process to highlight concerns, while people should be able to appeal directly to the council or CCG if they are unhappy with the internal review. 

The commission recommended that the number of complaints and concerns raised to the council, CCG, and CQC should be put into an annual report to cabinet and benchmarked against comparable boroughs, and also supported an annual report on care homes in general going to cabinet.  

It said systems should be in place to make sure people in homes who are ‘unbefriended’ – those lacking medical decision-making capacity who have no surrogates – are supported by the Independent Lay Advocacy service.  

The commission recommended that care homes hold regular meeting for families and carers, and that the older people’s hub provides information on how to choose a care home.  

The commission also backed restarting the lay inspectors programme, which uses volunteer older people to visit local care homes – this is also supported by the council and Age UK.  

It recommended completing the Ethical Home Care Charter by September, to ensure it includes a requirement for sick pay, and also supported a charter specifically for residential care homes.  

The ninth suggestion was speeding up the expansion of nursing homes provision “to ensure that there will be enough local capacity, particularly for local people with more challenging dementia”.  

The commission also recommended lobbying the Government on the expected White Paper on social care funding.  

At the moment 70 per cent of Southwark people requiring nursing beds are placed out borough, but 80 per cent of those people would prefer to be in Southwark. 

The council is planning to increase spaces in the borough by 340 by 2022.  

But the commission concluded that there is not enough local capacity if older people get more unwell.  

“Nursing homes provision plans are thoughtful and engaging, however more haste is needed to expedite the provision.  

“The council first identified the need for more nursing homes in 2015, however the full quota [is] now not due to be ready for residents until 2022,” according to the report.