Sturgeon expresses ‘huge sympathy’ for families demanding more contact with relatives in care homes

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she has “huge sympathy” for relatives unable to see loved ones in care homes.

It comes after campaigners gathered outside Holyrood to call for visiting restrictions to be eased.

About 50 protesters gathered outside the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday with banners, placards and photos of relatives, urging ministers to allow family members to visit and care for relatives.

Asked about the campaigners’ pleas, which include a call for relatives to have the same access to testing as key workers to enable more and safer visits to care homes, Ms Sturgeon said: “I have huge sympathy for relatives in this position.

“These are in a set of circumstances where every decision we have to take right now is a tough one, with no easy answers.

“The decisions around care homes are probably the toughest of all because we understand how vulnerable losing care homes are how much anguish there is on the part of friends and family in particular when they can’t see loved ones as normal.

“We think very carefully about these things and of course we consider the representations”

Since August 10, up to three visitors from two households have been able to see care home residents in outdoor meetings.

Indoor visits are also now allowed when the care home meets certain conditions including weekly coronavirus testing of staff and a risk assessment approved by the local director of public health.

But campaigners said relatives have been prevented from providing an essential caring role for family members in care homes since the lockdown restrictions were imposed.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing, chief nursing officer Fiona McQueen said ministers have to be “cautious about loosening up access” because of how vulnerable older people are to coronavirus,

But she said the Scottish Government is “actively considering” how to increase access for families.

Ms McQueen said: “We know that families are looking for close contact, we know that families are wanting to see their loved ones more frequently and we know that people are wanting to spend a longer time with them.

“So we are doing everything we can to look at the evidence to look at how we can best facilitate that and to make the life of people within care homes and their families and more joyous, more loving and more comfortable all round.”

The campaigners were supported by Scottish Labour’s health and social care spokeswoman Monica Lennon.

She said: “Six months since the ban on care home visiting was first introduced, the Scottish Government is still failing to recognise that husbands, wives, children and grandchildren are not simply visitors, they are caregivers and their loved ones are suffering mentally, emotionally and physically the longer contact is prevented or severely restricted.

“Older and disabled people living in care homes cannot be expected to live their lives in isolation without the companionship and affection of their closest family and friends.

“After making terrible decisions at the start of the pandemic, including sending older people into care homes without testing for the virus and limiting their access to healthcare, the Scottish Government’s caution is understandable but it is not proportionate.

“Car park visits and waves at the window are falling short of the contact and care that older and disabled people in care homes need.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Jane Barlow / PA Wire.