Face masks do more harm than good to the well-being of nursing home residents, a leading social care provider has warned.
According to Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare, the need for the current level of Covid infection control measures in homes where the vaccine has been deployed among residents and staff “is increasingly diminishing.”
The group, which has 45 homes across England and one in Wales, wrote to Sajid Javid, the health secretary, warning that some of the measures are now harming the well-being of nursing home residents.
The Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSC) is expected to issue updated guidelines on care homes and whether or not masks will be mandatory there, later this week.
The letter to Mr Javid says: “The requirement for visitors to wear face masks, other than those who are exempt, is an example of a policy that now causes more damage to the well-being of residents than it does offer medical protection.
“For many residents, a visit from a family member has made invaluable improvements to their well-being, but requiring these visitors to wear a face mask degrades the level of connection and therefore devalues the positive impacts that their visits can have.
“This restrictive policy, along with various others from DHSC and PHE [Public Health England], should be reconsidered as this next stage of England’s roadmap to exit lockdown approaches. “
The letter says the success of the vaccination program among nursing home staff and residents means that the majority of homes “are now ready to confidently return to an increased degree of normalcy.”
The 46 Sunrise and Gracewell homes have at least 90 percent of residents vaccinated and all but one have over 80 percent of staff vaccinated. This is the threshold that, according to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), must be met in every environment to provide a minimum level of protection against Covid outbreaks.
Last week, Helen Whately, the Minister of Care, said that even when lockdown restrictions ended on July 19, visits were “unlikely” to return completely to normal. Speaking on Times Radio, she said it was likely that visitors and staff would still be required to wear masks.
“I’m going to look at the tips, I’m going to be judgmental, but I don’t feel like wearing one when I don’t need it – personally, it’s not something I like to do,” she declared.
“But I’m also very aware that there will be circumstances in which I expect health and social care to continue, clearly, where people will have to continue to wear PPE. [personal protective equipment], which includes masks. “