Care home residents see carers' faces for first time in three years as mask restrictions ease

Staff at the Eothen Homes care facility say the "atmosphere has lifted" since the change. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

A care home in Newcastle has been celebrating its first day without the wearing of face masks since the start of the pandemic.

On 15 December, almost three years after face masks became mandatory for care home staff in March 2020, the Government relaxed its guidance and placed the decision in the hands of home managers.

North East-based provider Eothen Homes decided to allow staff to remove their masks from Monday 19 December.

Chief Executive Jenny Hearl said they had been waiting "forever and a day" for the news and that it is "the best Christmas present for our wonderful staff and residents."

At their Gosforth home in Newcastle, staff and residents danced and smiled together, rejoicing in the change.

Home manager Ebbw Ralph said: "The atmosphere’s lifted, everyone’s smiling and everyone’s happy.

"It makes a massive difference. Part of our body language is facial expressions so if you’ve got a covering on your face, you can’t really relay how you’re feeling and the residents can’t communicate very well, they don’t know if you’re smiling."

As well as the change of atmosphere that has resulted from seeing smiling faces, carers have also reported practical improvements as many hard-of-hearing residents relied on lip reading prior to the pandemic.

"This morning, they’re communicating more than we’ve known in the last three years because they’re lip reading as well," added Ms Ralph.

Resident Hilda Thompson said: "It’s so nice to be able to see their faces.

"Newer carers, we knew what they sounded like but not wholly what they look like.

"One particular girl, she’s lovely, a lovely face she’s got, and I hadn’t realised how nice it was."

Staff reported the change being "a bit daunting" and said they would have to constantly assess the risk, particularly amid rising cold and flu symptoms.

Minister of State for Care Helen Whately said: "The darkest days of the pandemic are thankfully behind us. But it doesn’t feel like that for people living in care homes or being cared for at home, when many of the people they see are still behind a mask.

"So much of what we communicate is through our expressions, our faces, and our smiles – especially for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Many rely on lip reading, and face masks don’t make the job any easier for care workers either.

"That’s why we’re making this change. We want care agencies and residential homes to decide what’s best for the people they look after. I hope this means thousands of people who are looked after by care workers will get to see a smile this Christmas."

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