Families of care home residents have cautiously welcomed plans to scrap visiting restrictions in England but said the move comes “way too late” for those who died alone.
From Monday, those living in care homes will be able to have unlimited visits from family and friends, while self-isolation periods will also be cut, the Government has announced.
While the news has broadly been welcomed, homes currently with outbreaks will not be able to lift restrictions immediately, and there are concerns others may continue to restrict visits or not have enough staff to cope with an increase in visitors.
To be honest, it would be nice just to give him a hug
Stuart Booth, on his father Stan
Dorothy is able to visit her 89-year-old mother four to five times a week after fighting “tooth and nail” to be given essential caregiver status.
The 61-year-old from London said her mother has now lost most of her ability to swallow and chew and sits with her eyes closed as if she wants to shut the world out.
Referring to the partygate scandal engulfing No 10, she said: “The fact that that lot were having all their parties, and the Queen was sitting alone burying her husband of 73 years, and we were not allowed to see our loved ones at all, has not gone down well.
“A lot of us are not believing a word that they say. And the main thing is it’s too late.
“It’s too late for so many whose loved ones have died, let alone those sitting with their eyes shut, not really knowing who we are. It’s way too late.”
Dorothy added: “We need it to be law because otherwise the homes that haven’t been following the guidance will just shut them out again when there’s an outbreak.”
Father-of-three Stuart Booth last saw his father Stan – who has a long-term brain condition and is deaf and almost totally blind – in September.
He was unable to visit for his father’s birthday in November after catching Covid, and was stopped from visiting at Christmas by an outbreak at the care home, which is three hours’ drive away.
He called the Government’s announcement “really great news” and said being able to see his father and “improve his day-to-day quality of life probably outweighs the risk for him individually now”.
Mr Booth, from Horsham, West Sussex, said: “I’ve not been able to see him or have anything approaching a conversation with him in a very, very long time.
“And, when I have done, for the last two years it’s been half an hour in the vestibule of a building.
“If the restrictions really do go and we’re able to see him for a decent amount of time inside the home, that makes a world of a difference because it’s almost as good as he can have it with his condition.
“To be honest, it would be nice just to give him a hug.”
Those care homes that acknowledge the importance of family contact and support will also welcome this announcement as the biggest step yet in the return to normal life. However, we remain fearful for the residents of those care homes who have consistently ignored previous Government guidance that clearly instructed them to relax their visiting policies
Jenny Morrison, Rights for Residents
Jenny Morrison, co-founder of the campaign group Rights for Residents, said the move is a “huge step forward” in restoring residents’ human rights.
She said: “Those care homes that acknowledge the importance of family contact and support will also welcome this announcement as the biggest step yet in the return to normal life.
“However, we remain fearful for the residents of those care homes who have consistently ignored previous Government guidance that clearly instructed them to relax their visiting policies.
Whilst today’s announcements are welcome, many care homes are on a rolling lockdown, unlimited visitors will not be going In, we must wait for the guidance, but please make sure, if you have a loved one in care, they have an #essentialcaregiver #rfr https://t.co/4ep6YtLm4r
— #rightsforresidents (@rightsforresid2) January 27, 2022
“Some will no doubt continue to enforce prison-style visiting while facing no penalties whatsoever for denying those in their care the fundamental right to a family life.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid acknowledged care homes have “a lot of discretion” over the rules they set, urging providers to do “everything they can” to allow visits.
He said: “If a care home needs to act differently because of an outbreak, then that is understandable as long as they are doing everything they can to allow the maximum number of visitors.”
Julia Jones, co-founder of the charity John’s Campaign, said most people “will not be dancing in the streets” while restrictions remain if there are two or more coronavirus cases in a care home.
She said: “We have normalised a situation where the people who need love, activity, and quality of life the most will still receive the least.
“Bearing in mind that many of the older people living in care homes may be approaching the end of their lives, then of course we are glad that more of them will be able to have time with their grandchildren.
“Nevertheless, while the current ‘outbreak’ regulations remain in force, this access will remain extremely limited for far too many.”
The Independent Care Group (ICG), which represents providers in York and North Yorkshire, appealed for “patience” as it expects many homes will want to keep appointment systems for visits.
Chairman Mike Padgham said: “Of course, we welcome the reintroduction of unlimited visiting as we appreciate how important it is for residents and their families to be together and we, more than anyone, want to end the heartache that separation has brought.
“But we would appeal for caution and patience over this change. It is being introduced from Monday, which gives care settings precious little time to prepare.
“We also have to bear in mind that care and nursing homes are going through their worst ever staffing crisis and, in some cases, might struggle to accommodate a sudden big influx of visitors.”