Thank you to those who contacted me recently about dementia and coronavirus.
I can imagine how challenging it must be for families caring for loved ones during this difficult time, particularly those who have needed to take on extra responsibilities. I know that the Government is working closely with system partners, stakeholders, local authorities and the care sector to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on people with dementia and to identify what additional actions may be required to ensure safety, and access to the right support and care.
In addition, research through the National Institute for Health Research was commissioned on how to manage or mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on people with dementia and their carers living in the community. The research has considered the best ways to support people to stay well during the outbreak, including help to manage the psychological and social impacts of social distancing, self-isolation, and lockdown. You can find more information, including summary leaflets, here: http://www.idealproject.org.uk/covid/.
We do understand how important it is that those who are in care homes do not face another lockdown as before. We know this has a seriously detrimental impact on their physical and mental health, as well as that of their families who cannot see them. That is why care homes were amongst the first to receive the vaccine and we had a pilot scheme with PCR and lateral flow testing for visitors.
Visiting is a central part of care home life and it is crucially important for maintaining health and wellbeing and quality of life for residents. While coronavirus cases remain high, the number of infections is falling and our world-leading vaccination programme has seen every care home resident offered a jab. In light of this promising progress, I am delighted that care home residents will be able to be visited indoors by a single, named individual from 8th March. Crucially, this scheme will allow a single visitor to hold hands indoors with their relative or contact in a care home. The named individual will be required to have a test beforehand, wear PPE during the visit and avoid other close contact. I firmly welcome these measures, based on the science, which represent a balance between the risk of infections and the importance of visiting for the physical and mental wellbeing of residents and their families.
Outdoor, pod and screen visits will be able to continue in line with the published guidance which has been in place during lockdown, meaning there will be chances for residents to see more than just the one person they nominate. Visiting will unfortunately have to be suspended in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 at the individual care home.
I know this is a frustrating time, but we now can see that there is an end in sight. This welcome step from the March 8th is the first towards resuming indoor visits and I hope we are able to see further steps taken in the future.
I know several of you also raised the issue of antipsychotics. As I understand it, antipsychotics have been prescribed for some patients with dementia for some time, though only in cases where they are at risk of harming themselves or others, or if they are severely distressed, and alongside other treatments or activities. The risks and benefits of taking an antipsychotic should always be discussed with the person with dementia, where possible, and any carer.
I would certainly be interested to learn more about the use of antipsychotics for patients with dementia during the pandemic, particularly in view of the article in the Lancet on this issue.
I agree that we should do everything we can to offer support to people with long term health conditions, as well as those who support them, throughout this difficult time.
Thank you again to those who took the time to contact me about this.