Labour MP calls for better access to relatives in care after tragic death of dad

A Labour MP has urged the Government to prevent his family’s battle for hospital access in the heartbreaking weeks before the death of his father from happening to others.

Dan Carden (pictured) opened up about the experience of his dad’s death, as he called on the Government to introduce a new legal right which would enable people in health and care settings to maintain contact with their relatives.

The MP for Liverpool Walton told the Commons how his father died from lung cancer last year and how “like many people undergoing cancer treatment, one evening he suddenly became unresponsive and we had to rush him to A&E at the hospital”.

He went on: “It was confirmed that he had sepsis and he was therefore isolated in a side room on the A&E ward, which was overrun with patients on beds and trolleys in the corridor.”

Mr Carden said his dad was once left “with his emergency buzzer out of his reach” and had “no means of contacting” his family at times, after a period when “he didn’t receive any hot food, he wasn’t showered or washed nor assisted in changing his clothes, and he was unable to get help to go to the toilet”.

He added: “He told us after these experiences that he had felt so lonely and neglected and unable to alert anyone to his basic needs. And my dad was a man who never liked to make a fuss.”

Quoting his mother, the Labour MP said: “My mum said ‘This meant that instead of being able to focus on caring and supporting my husband through his final weeks, we had to battle with the hospital to see him. The trauma of my husband’s death, and in particular the neglect he experienced in his final weeks of life, remain with me’.”

He added: “This problem is not exclusive to the coronavirus pandemic. There are still rigid restrictions on visiting as well as shocking instances of denying contact.”

Plaid Cymru Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts spoke about a similar struggle to visit her mother after she suffered a stroke.

She said a dementia specialist nurse explained to her that family contact was “a right rather than an optional favour”, adding: “She was the first person in authority to mention this”.

Ms Saville Roberts said: “Nonetheless in spite of her help, I only touched my mother’s hand once during the critical six weeks after her first stroke.”

She added: “Yes, we could arrange to speak to her through a glass window as she sat in a stairwell in the hospital and we stood outside in the carpark peering in. She couldn’t hear us, and incidentally her hearing aid had been kept in a cabinet all the while and the batteries had run out.

“Yes, we could phone and arrange to speak over an iPad but she couldn’t hear us, she couldn’t understand us. There were no hugs. Health authority infection policy vetoed family bonds of love as a health hazard to be minimised.”

She added: “Treating the elderly and people with dementia as units of flesh and bone by meeting the barest minimum of their physical needs is wrong. We are social animals, take away our social support and we fail to thrive.

“Denying family contact causes immediate welfare harm to patients and longer-term harm to family members.

“Why should the owners of private care homes, especially in England where local authority care is far less available than Wales, be able to make such immense decisions and possibly prioritise convenience over residents and families’ rights?”

Shadow health minister Liz Kendall joined calls for a legal right to visit, telling the Commons: “Throughout the pandemic the Government has resisted calls for residents to have a legal right to see their family member.

“They have consistently said that the guidance they issued was enough, but the guidance, which has changed over 30 times during the course of the pandemic, is not enough. We have seen that time and time again.”

Health minister Helen Whately told MPs: “I will assure all honourable members in the chamber and all those listening that I do not consider the status quo acceptable. And I am on the case.”

She added: “We cannot continue to have this situation with families and friends struggling to see loved ones in care homes. That’s why I have already commissioned work today, my first commission since my appointment, on the steps that I can take to sort this out.”

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