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How a care home team made family visits possible despite pandemic

An award-winning care home team's innovations during the pandemic, including family visits with physical touching, laid the foundations for government guidance

An award-winning care home team's innovations during the pandemic, including family visits with physical touching, laid the foundations for government guidance

  • Success of meaningful visits team at Greenock Medical Aid Society care homes was recognised and replicated by others
  • Team made sure care home residents could still have family visits – including physical touching – during the pandemic
  • Data show improvements in overall well-being of residents and family members

A team who made it possible for care home residents to still have family visits – including physical touching – during the pandemic has

An award-winning care home team's innovations during the pandemic, including family visits with physical touching, laid the foundations for government guidance

  • Success of meaningful visits team at Greenock Medical Aid Society care homes was recognised and replicated by others
  • Team made sure care home residents could still have family visits – including physical touching – during the pandemic
  • Data show improvements in overall well-being of residents and family members
Ella (left), a resident of Greenock Medical Aid Society’s Bagatelle Care Home, is reunited with her best friend June
Ella (left), a resident of Greenock Medical Aid Society’s Bagatelle Care Home, is reunited with her best friend June Picture: STV News

A team who made it possible for care home residents to still have family visits – including physical touching – during the pandemic has been lauded for its achievements.

RCN Nursing Awards logo

The meaningful visits team at Greenock Medical Aid Society care homes won the Nursing Older People Award at the RCN Nursing Awards 2021.

‘Holding someone’s hand is so important,’ says care home chief executive Andrea Wyllie. ‘Especially for someone with advanced dementia, it keeps people calm. Families and loved ones need to connect.’

The awards judges praised the team’s creative and innovative approach at a time when many care homes had a policy of no physical contact for visits.

‘The guidance from the government restricting visiting was trying to keep people safe, but as time went on we could see it was harming the people living in our care homes’

Andrea Wyllie, Greenock Medical Aid Society care homes chief executive

During the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Ms Wyllie drew up plans for a pilot scheme on visiting using COVID-19 PCR testing and devised comprehensive risk assessments and protocols.

Its success was recognised and widely replicated by other care homes.

Enabling people to have actual contact with loved ones was the driving force behind this project, says Ms Wyllie.

‘The guidance from the government restricting visiting was trying to keep people safe, but as time went on we could see it was harming the people living in our care homes and also those who loved them.

Care home team discussed how to achieve meaningful visits involving touch

‘We were unable to give them their best life with those who mattered the most to them. Our staff cared and showed ongoing compassion but it could not be a substitute for the love of families and friends.

‘There used to be a session on the impact and importance of therapeutic touch during nurse training and it has never left me. Yet we had people sitting outside at a distance with the doors open talking to their friend of 70 years, or wife of decades, and it was awful. With a robust system I knew we could do something more.’

The team discussed how they could achieve meaningful visits involving touch, adopting as their motto ‘balancing rights with risk’. Ms Wyllie worked with the local health and social care partnership and drew up protocols and risk assessments.

Seven key factors in the care home visits pilot

  1. Comprehensive risk assessment approved by public health authority
  2. Visitor coordinator appointed to cover seven days a week
  3. Designated visiting area to reduce footfall through the care home with good ventilation and limited furnishing
  4. Booking system, with a maximum three or four visits per day
  5. Alcohol gel and personal protective equipment available
  6. Testing all nominated visitors on arrival
  7. Cleaning schedule before and after each visit

She credits the Queen’s Nurses programme run by the Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland for giving her the confidence to keep pushing to be allowed to pilot the visits.

Having reintroduced visits in November, the team were disappointed when a further lockdown was announced for Boxing Day in 2020. They worked extra shifts to ensure every resident had a meaningful visit before it came into place and lobbied the government to allow indoor visiting as soon as possible.

The team’s data show improvements in the overall well-being of residents and family members and even an increase in the appetites of residents.

Andrea Wyllie, Greenock Medical Aid Society care homes chief executive
Andrea Wylie

‘We saw a significant decrease in those at risk of malnutrition,’ says Ms Wyllie. ‘We saw moods lift and a feeling of life and buzz return to our care homes.

‘We also demonstrated that we could balance the rights of residents and family members in being back together with the risks that increasing footfall could bring.’

Awards judges impressed by team’s commitment to holistic care of residents

By showing how it could be done safely and successfully, the team encouraged other providers to open up and shared its risk assessments and protocols.

The RCN Nursing Awards judges were impressed by the team’s commitment to the holistic care of residents and how their brave but evidence-led approach laid the foundations for the Scottish Government’s Opening with Care guidance and paved the way for all care homes in Scotland to reintroduce meaningful indoor visits.

Chair of judges Joanne Bosanquet, who is chief executive of the Foundation of Nursing Studies, called Ms Wyllie ‘a force of nature’.

‘She overcame political and organisational challenges to maintain visiting in a care home during the pandemic by using a rights and risks model. Andrea is a real advocate for her community.’

How care homes across the UK are receiving visitors

Care homes across the UK are receiving visitors, generally through a booking system and with precautions in place, such as lateral flow testing on arrival and good hand hygiene.


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