First Minister urged to ‘do whatever it takes’ to accommodate care home visits
Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to do “whatever it takes” to allow more people to visit relatives in care homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie made the plea as he raised the case of Cathie Russell, who has been unable to hug her mother or hold her hand for the last five months.
Mr Rennie told the First Minister how Ms Russell’s visits to the care home are limited to 30 minutes a week, and she and her mother are separated by a plastic screen throughout.
“They have not hugged or held hands for five months,” Mr Rennie said
“Her mother’s health is in decline. Cathie says people in care homes need their families.”
He added: “Cathie’s mother comes into contact with multiple carers every day, yet the most important carer of all, her daughter, is left outside.
“And this is happening to hundreds of people every day.
“So extend testing, give her PPE, check her temperature, make her self isolate. Do whatever it takes to keep them safe but let her in.”
Mr Rennie challenged Ms Sturgeon on the issue the day after relatives held a protest outside Holyrood to raise awareness of their plight.
As Mr Rennie urged Ms Sturgeon to “make this happen”, Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon pressed her on the “hidden catastrophe” that the psychological and emotional impact of separating care home residents from their loved ones could bring.
Raising the issue at First Minister’s Questions, she said: “We need to change the story before it is too late.
“We must end this hidden catastrophe in care homes and avoid a winter of separation.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “I understand how difficult this time is for people who have loved ones in care homes, restrictions on visiting your loved ones is the most challenging thing I think any of us can imagine.
“Visiting is a fundamental part of the health and well-being of people who live in care homes.”
The First Minister stressed decisions over access to care homes during the pandemic had been “really difficult” – explaining the need to strike a balance between keeping elderly residents safe and allowing people to see their loved ones.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman will meet families who have “absolutely legitimate concerns” on Friday, she added.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We know that visiting is a fundamental part of the health and well-being of those who live in our care homes.
“But these restrictions are ultimately in place to try to help us protect care home residents and save lives and it is important we continue to recognise the risks of communal living, the risks of infections getting into care homes, as we take these decisions.”
While she said “around 40% of care homes” were currently allowing relatives to have indoor visits, she said she wanted more facilities to be able to do this.
She said: “I will try to take decisions that strike the balance between allowing families to have normal interactions with their loved ones, which I absolutely understand, but also make sure we are doing everything appropriate to protect people in care homes.
“These are not easy decisions. I don’t enjoy taking these decisions at all, but we will try to do them taking the best advice and taking the best factors in balancing those.”
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