Charities, doctors, MPs and desperate families tonight united behind the Mail’s campaign to ensure care home residents do not spend Christmas alone.
They implored ministers to relax stringent restrictions which have forbidden vulnerable residents from hugging or holding hands with their loved ones for the past eight months.
The Mail launched a major campaign calling for the Government to prioritise the urgent use of mass testing in care homes to ensure residents can have meaningful personal visits.
Most can see their loved ones only behind ‘prison-style’ screens, or through windows, while some homes allow only drive-through visits or no visits at all.
Tonight, MPs from across the political spectrum joined charities and campaigners in backing our manifesto for change in time for the Christmas holidays.
Charities, doctors, MPs and desperate families tonight united behind the Mail’s campaign to ensure care home residents do not spend Christmas alone (File image)
The campaign was even praised in a parliamentary debate as MPs told of the agony their constituents were being put through by the Government’s care home lockdown.
But although care minister Helen Whately said she wanted families to be able to ‘hold hands and hug again’, she refused to commit to a timeframe. And there was still no commitment on testing from the Department of Health, beyond a pledge to begin a pilot scheme.
As the Mail campaign was inundated with support:
Medical experts said the ban on visits was costing lives, with residents ‘giving up on life’ and losing their ability to eat, drink and speak;
The Alzheimer’s Society said the restrictions on visitors were ‘losing lives, not saving them’;
A string of families came forward to share distressing stories – including a man forced to wait nine months to see his elderly mother in a Birmingham care home.
Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary and chairman of the health committee, said: ‘The Mail are absolutely right to shine a light on the agony facing families cruelly separated from loved ones in care homes. If we can test the whole city of Liverpool, we can surely find enough tests to allow care homes to introduce regular family member visits in time for Christmas.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said care home residents were being ‘failed and forgotten’, adding: ‘Unless the Government listens to these demands, vulnerable residents will be consigned to a bleak and lonely Christmas.’ Lib Dems leader Sir Ed Davey said: ‘This is such an important campaign. Ministers must understand they are accountable for the care home fiasco and that they must put it right before Christmas.’
The Mail’s five-point manifesto calls for all residents to have at least one relative or friend designated as a ‘key visitor’, who receives routine weekly testing. We also want rapid tests to be rolled out as a priority to care homes, and an end to the postcode lottery for visits.
Baroness Joan Bakewell, the former older people’s tsar, said: ‘The toll of Covid is more than physical illness. Isolation in care homes makes people depressed, feeling deserted, without love or hugs. It amounts to cruelty.’
The campaign has also been backed by a string of leading charities, including Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society and Rights for Residents, a campaign group calling for an end to the visitor restrictions.
Yesterday a debate was held in Parliament highlighting the devastating consequences of the pandemic on people with dementia.
Former Cabinet minister Esther McVey said: ‘I want to commend the Daily Mail. An elderly constituent said to me: ‘I want to live before I die. And at the moment with all these confusing lockdown rules, I can’t.’ ‘
The Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘We understand the pain and consequences of loved ones being separated from one another, and we must get the balance right between reuniting families and ensuring care staff and residents are kept safe and well, while preventing the transmission of Covid-19.’
She was regal. Now I can’t recognise her
As a former clothes shop owner and ‘fashion queen’, Georgina Culton always used to take great pride in her appearance.
But since her visits with relatives have been restricted, the grandmother, 76, has become almost unrecognisable to her family.
Daughter Lucy Glynn-Large, 46, said that she could not believe how drastically her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, has deteriorated since she was forbidden face-to-face contact with her loved ones.
Fashion queen to fading away: Lucy and her mum last year
Mrs Glynn-Large said: ‘My mum was such a fashion queen in her day, you could ask anybody and they’d tell you her favourite thing in the world was her leather boots.
‘But when I called her on Monday, I was so shocked to see how different she looked, her hair was all over the place and more than anything she looked so sad.
‘She has these big, beautiful blue eyes but now they look so dull and depressed. I feel she is fading away right in front of me.’
Georgina was first diagnosed with dementia in 2018, bringing about a ‘rapid decline’, according to her daughter.
She was moved to Figbury Lodge care home in Poole, Dorset, in January shortly before the onset of the pandemic.
Since then, she has only been allowed four short ‘window visits’ from her sister and two children.
Her grandchildren have been banned from seeing her because they are under 14 – a policy heavily criticised by her family.
Lucy on a video call with her mother in the care home
Mrs Glynn-Large said: ‘I don’t know how the Government can’t see what they’re doing is cruel. There is not a shadow of a doubt that my mum’s condition has worsened through lockdown.
‘She is very clearly clinically depressed and that has left the whole family racked with guilt.
‘She doesn’t have loads of time left. All I want more than anything in the world is to give her a hug.’
Mrs Glynn-Large, an adult social care worker, welcomed the Mail’s campaign. She said: ‘When I saw the front page, I shouted ‘Yes!’
‘It’s so great to see this issue finally getting the attention it deserves.’
Xmas? I just want a hug
By Helena Kelly
Teresa Andersen, 91, wants only one thing for Christmas – a hug from her daughter.
Former mill worker Mrs Andersen was always the life and soul of the party, but since moving into a care home in May, she has become a shadow of her former self.
Recently, she even started refusing food until staff at Fairmount care home in Preston allowed her to speak to her only daughter, Linda, 63.
Stopped eating: Linda Andersen with her mother Teresa, 91, last Christmas
Mrs Andersen, who suffers with dementia and kidney and heart failure, hadn’t seen Linda in so long she thought she had died from coronavirus and staff were keeping the news from her. Linda, from Chorley, Lancashire, said: ‘The last time I saw her was on August 1 for her 91st birthday but even then I wasn’t able to touch her.
‘When she stopped eating recently, I gave her a call and she said, ‘oh, thank God, I thought I’d lost you and they were hiding it from me’.
‘When I asked my mum what she wanted for Christmas, she said, ‘just a hug from you’. It’s heartbreaking because I know I can’t even promise her that.’
Linda, a council worker, added: ‘I cannot fault the home at all – they’ve been great but their hands are tied.’
My mum thinks she’s in prison
Great-grandmother Connie Berry has deteriorated so much in her care home that she thinks she is in prison, and keeps asking her daughter what she has done wrong.
Sue Egersdorff, 60, from Liverpool, said she felt she had lost her ‘vibrant’ 87-year-old mum, who moved in to the Belong care home in Warrington in June. Only last year, Mrs Berry was able to tend to her garden, drive a car and do all her own shopping.
Mrs Egersdorff said: ‘My mum is so frail and weak now – she is nothing like she was this time last year.
Frail: Connie Berry with her great-granddaughters
‘It’s hard to explain because we still don’t know what’s happened to her, we haven’t got a formal diagnosis of dementia but she’s very confused.
‘She really believes she is in prison not a care home. She keeps asking me what she’s done wrong and why she’s not allowed out.’
She added: ‘She has had to go into isolation so many times which has had a huge impact. Even when I do see her, she asks, ‘why can’t I touch you? When are we going home?’ ‘
We lock them away to cut risk – and kill them with loneliness instead
COMMENTARY by Dr Max Pemberton
The heartbreaking image that appeared on the front page of yesterday’s Daily Mail proved beyond doubt that Britain’s shameful treatment of its care home residents needs to end.
Showing a loving wife having to kneel in the street to see her husband’s face through a metal railing, it was yet more disturbing proof that the state of our social care system is nothing short of a national scandal.
Those in care homes are some of the most vulnerable in society.
And yet, as that photograph made clear, they are having to bear the brunt of our response to this virus, sacrificing the twilight years of what little time they have left.
Ever since the lockdown was first introduced, overly cautious managers and health officials have placed unforgivable restrictions on care residents – the results of which, especially among those with dementia, have caused untold levels of distress and anguish.
The heartbreaking image that appeared on the front page of yesterday’s Daily Mail proved beyond doubt that Britain’s shameful treatment of its care home residents needs to end
That is why the Mail’s campaign to reunite residents with their loved ones this Christmas is so crucial.
It provides a voice to the voiceless, standing up for the rights of a group so often sidelined and forgotten.
As an NHS psychiatrist with first-hand experience treating those with dementia, I know fully well just how beneficial such a move would be.
After all, those with dementia are more likely to be confused and scared when isolated from their families. Indeed, tearing them away from relatives is a recipe for deterioration.
I saw this for myself only a few weeks ago when one of my patients, an elderly man with dementia, had to be admitted to hospital after a fall in a care home.
With his wife effectively banned from visiting him, his behaviour became increasingly disturbed and he had to be given sedative drugs.
After his condition severely deteriorated, the nurses did finally accept that keeping him and his wife apart was making things worse and she was finally allowed to visit him on the ward.
Watching them be reunited after so many months was one of the most touching moments of my career.
But make no mistake: they are the lucky ones.
For far more often, care home residents suffering from enforced isolation are left to fend for themselves.
In fact, over the past few months countless readers have written to me, detailing gut-wrenching stories of their loved ones being trapped in nursing homes without any visitors.
Some of the most haunting have been those describing people with dementia who, confused and distressed, plead with their family to come and collect them.
One described how she couldn’t stop crying after speaking to her confused husband, who was convinced he was being held captive. She hasn’t been allowed to see him for three months.
When fear of a virus such as Covid-19 is allowed to devastate the lives of the vulnerable in such a way, surely it is proof that we have lost all perspective? It’s a shameful indictment of how Britain views care home residents, and we have no choice but to find an alternative that allows them to have the face-to-face contact they need.
For ultimately we are social animals and maintaining relationships is a basic, fundamental need we all have.
That’s why Age UK and a significant number of doctors have been warning for months that banning visitors in care homes will result in residents ‘giving up the will to live’.
Following yesterday’s reports that more than 5,000 dementia patients died needlessly during lockdown, their tragic warning appears to have come to fruition.
Certainly there is a bitter irony to the fact that the Government’s attempts to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission could be killing those most vulnerable to it.
But more seriously, it is inflicting misery and upset on tens of thousands of people.
This cannot be right. In fact, I believe such an inhumane policy is tantamount to a grotesque abuse of power and surely violates the fundamental human rights of residents and their families.
Only this month, shocking footage was released of an elderly resident being forced into a police car and returned to her care home while her daughter – a registered nurse – was arrested for trying to take her mother home.
There could be no clearer evidence that we are sleep-walking into a cruel world that prioritises officialdom over compassion.
Meanwhile, in other developed countries like France, there are no such draconian restrictions on nursing homes. There, residents are treated like humans – not prisoners.
Of course, Covid-19 is a virulent virus, and we need to protect residents from it.
But if we continue to lock away the elderly and throw away the key, we risk losing something far more important: our humanity.
- Dr Max Pemberton is an NHS psychiatrist