L’Arche in the UK is concerned that the 7 April DHSC guidance Visits out of care homes is discriminatory and harmful to people with learning disabilities, including a number of our Community members. In particular, the requirement for a resident to isolate for 14 days after a visit outside a care home is inappropriate and unjustified for most people with learning disabilities in residential care.

L’Arche UK National Leader John Casson wrote to the Minister for Social Care on 22 April, to highlight the impact of this measure in practice:

  • It is in effect a prohibition on leaving home for many. Because learning disability services are designed to promote independent and ordinary lives, many homes are ordinary houses where people share kitchens and bathrooms. For one woman aged 23 in one of our Communities, the guidance means living permanently in a bedroom if she is to walk with her father once a fortnight.

  • It imposes a new and tougher lockdown on people with learning disability living in care homes, who have previously been able to make riskbased decisions within national guidelines to access shops, hairdressers, day services, and arrange family visits off premises to reduce the risk of infection to shared homes. At 14 days the new requirement is even more severe than the 10-day quarantine on international arrivals.

  • It further intensifies the disproportionate harm which research shows the Coronavirus and lockdown has done to the wellbeing of people with learning disabilities. The removal of access to routines, relationships, work and therapeutic activities – at a time when people with learning disabilities know these are being allowed to other people – is causing anger, distress and significant mental health consequences. The repeated reaction of one of our residents, a man used to making his own trips to work, to the pub, and to see friends and family is typical: “Why am I being treated SO differently?”

  • It is a deprivation of liberty, and a deeply regressive step in terms of the rights, liberty and dignity of people with learning disabilities. It is not clear on what basis people with learning disability who have capacity can be denied a right to visit outside the home that is permitted to people without disability. The Mental Capacity Act requires specific safeguards and assessments, which the guidance takes no account of.

We are asking the Department of Health and Social Care to make an early amendment to bring the guidance for people with learning disability in residential care into line with the guidance for supported living (which recognises the health and wellbeing benefits of visits and establishes a policy for mitigating risks on the basis that visits should be enabled wherever it is safe to do so). The different treatment of people in residential care is hard to understand when the risks and residential arrangements are in practice often indistinguishable from those in supported living.

We encourage everyone who shares our concern to contact their MP to ask for an amendment ahead of the next scheduled review point on 17 May. This is not a matter of waiting to review COVID infections evidence, but correcting an anomaly which is harmful and unjust for people who are too often overlooked in our institutional decision making.

John Casson
National Leader, L'Arche in the UK