Families barred from care home visits felt like they were ‘grieving for people who were still alive’

Families shut off from visiting loved ones in care homes felt like they were “grieving for people who were still alive”, a committee has been told.

Jenny Morrison, from the campaign group Rights for Residents, said some care home managers were “gripped by fear” about coronavirus entering their homes which affected decisions regarding visiting.

She told the Joint Committee on Human Rights that the focus on protecting residents from Covid-19 “blinded” people to resulting issues around wellbeing and mental health of isolated residents.

She said: “People were just gripped by fear of Covid entering their care homes, and we feel that that has… affected all the decisions that were made since then regarding visits.

“And yet… the Government, for example, did not address people’s concern that in locking relatives out completely, people were literally dying of loneliness and isolation, they were giving up the will to live, they were stopping eating and drinking, you know, these are people who have had no understanding of where their loved ones have gone, people with dementia, people with cognitive impairments, children with learning difficulties and disabilities.”

Ms Morrison (pictured) told the committee there is a need to keep people safe from Covid-19 but also “from many other things” including deterioration in isolation.

She continued: “It’s amazing how we’ve managed to overcome some of the deterioration, but we all feel as relatives that… we have had to watch for over a year now as our loved ones have deteriorated and it’s literally as if we’re grieving.

“We’ve been grieving for people who were still alive, we watched them from windows, we watched them from pods and from the other side of the screen, and people… don’t sleep, they’re anxious, their jobs are affected, they have suicidal thoughts, they are constantly anxious about the loved one in a care home.

“And in terms of human rights, because that’s what this is about today, we understand that residents have got to be protected… everybody has a right to be protected, but their mental health and wellbeing shall be protected just as much as their actual physical wellbeing also.”

Ms Morrison said she is aware of “widespread defiance” of Government visiting guidance setting out how residents with significant needs should receive regular visits from an essential caregiver.

She said that without legal enforcement it is difficult to see how providers will comply with the guidance.

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said he believed providers should be making the decisions about visits due to the diversity of the sector, such as varying physical layouts and degrees of frailty of residents.

He continued: “But the start point should always be that they will do everything they possibly can to reinstate visiting when it is safe to do so.

“And I do believe that care providers are adopting that approach in this very difficult time.”

He added that the challenge is that providers will always be accountable for anything that happens as visiting opportunities increase.

The committee was also told that guidance requiring residents to isolate for 14 days after leaving their care home was a “bizarre violation of people’s rights”.

Prof Green said it effectively means residents will not be able to leave the home for visits, which is a “really big issue”.

He would like to see this guidance reviewed to facilitate trips out of the home.

On residents receiving their second vaccine doses, he added: “I think we should be recognising that that does give people a lot more protection than we had at the start of this pandemic.”

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