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A rule forcing care home residents to isolate for 14 days after being discharged from hospital is under review, The Telegraph can reveal, amid fears it is fuelling bed-blocking.

Around one in eight hospital beds in England, representing more than 10,000 patients, are occupied by patients fit to leave, according to the latest data.

However, efforts to discharge some of these people into care homes are being hampered by a government rule which requires them to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival, even if they test negative for coronavirus.

Number of Covid-19 patients in England

The rule vastly differs from current guidance for positive Covid cases in the community, who now only have to isolate for seven days if they have two negative lateral flow tests.

Care home leaders have also called for the Covid outbreak criteria to be reviewed, after it was revealed that just two positive cases in a home can result in it being shut to new admissions for up to a month, with residents also denied visitors.

The Telegraph understands the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which sets the infection control guidance, is currently “actively reviewing” the two policies.

Health sources said both rules are affecting hospital discharge rates, with the latest data out on Friday expected to show the number of beds blocked by patients medically fit to leave has remained unchanged.

Rules ‘unfair and discriminatory’

Care England said the sector was “fed up of being a step, or more, behind” national guidelines. 

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, called on the Government to publish “robust clinical evidence” to justify residents being isolated for 14 days, arguing that it can be “very detrimental to their health and wellbeing”.

Age UK said it was “surely time” to consider reducing the isolation period, with “so many stuck in hospital when medically fit to leave” and growing evidence that omicron is a milder variant.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Through the pandemic we have learned that keeping older people on their own creates its own problems, so the less time this has to happen the better.”

Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives and Residents Association, said the “blanket rule” was “unfair and discriminatory”. She said people’s “basic rights are being breached”.

Isolation not only affects residents’ mental health, she said, but also their physical health. She also said people with dementia can often be “really confused why they’re in isolation”, adding: “They think they’ve been abandoned by their families.”

The “arbitrary rule” has left some residents reluctant to seek medical care as they fear being alone for two weeks, she added.

In one case, a patient asked for wallpaper to be put up in her room “so she didn’t have to stare at blank walls for two weeks,” Ms Wildbore said.

Isolation torment for dementia patient

Pip Alder, from Framlingham, Suffolk, said her 82-year-old mother, who has dementia, has been isolated three times since moving into a care home in July 2020.

Before Christmas, she experienced a seizure and before her family were called, she was taken to accident and emergency.

“I was absolutely horrified to discover that even though she hadn’t been admitted it was classed as high risk, so she then went into a 14-day isolation in her room,” Ms Alder said.

“It meant she had Christmas on her own and New Year on her own, again.”

As her essential carer, Ms Alder was the only visitor allowed to see her mother – who is married with six daughters – during her isolation. 

A laminated sign is now above her mother’s bed saying: “Jill does not want to go to hospital if you call an ambulance you must call her daughters.”

Ms Alder said: “I am grateful that my mum has dementia so she doesn’t really know what’s going on. The poor people in there who are mentally capable… it’s tragic…they say the care homes are being protected, but actually they are being held prisoner.”

It comes as the number of confirmed or suspected respiratory infection outbreaks reported in UK care homes with at least one coronavirus case has more than doubled in a fortnight, the UKHSA said.

Care homes boss calls for removal of isolation

Separately, the boss of a care home group with 2,300 staff has said people with asymptomatic Covid should not be required to isolate.

Tony Stein, chief executive of Healthcare Management Solutions, which has around 60 care homes in the UK, said: “The removal of the PCR element of the isolation period is welcome but we should go a step further and remove isolation periods entirely for these people.

“In a highly vaccinated population like the UK, where a drastically milder version of Covid is becoming prevalent, it is time for the Government and public to accept that asymptomatic people shouldn’t isolate.”

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