A cruel postcode lottery means heartbroken relatives face bans on seeing loved ones in care homes over Christmas.
Families are being banned from visiting care homes over the festive season, despite a Government pledge that mass visitor testing will allow all residents to hold hands and hug once again.
Some care providers say they are too short-staffed to facilitate visits, while others are adopting an ‘overly risk-averse’ approach and refusing to allow anyone in. In contrast, other homes are doing all they can to make Christmas special – even preparing for residents to have a turkey dinner with their families on the premises.
Campaigners last night urged the Government to make visits mandatory, saying that many care providers ‘are finding ways to wriggle out of providing visits’.
Dorothy Clarke pictured in her care home talking to daughter through the window on her phone
They are backing the Daily Mail’s Christmas campaign which calls for national guidance to ensure that no care homes can impose blanket visiting bans.
Currently local authorities and care homes are free to impose their own rules, meaning the elderly are facing council bans on visits in parts of Britain.
Last night it emerged that one council has warned care homes not to use rapid coronavirus tests because of concerns about their accuracy.
They’ve told me I can’t visit mum, 92
Catherine Marshall felt ‘a glimmer of hope after nine months of hell’ when Boris Johnson pledged visitor testing for all care homes.
But she has been told she can’t see her mother Dorothy Clarke, 92, on Christmas Day – not even to wave through a window. Mrs Clarke, pictured left, has Alzheimer’s and has lived in a care home in Dudley, West Midlands, since her husband Terry died a year ago.
Mrs Marshall, 63, has seen her three times since March – only outdoors.
But the care home said it is too short-staffed over Christmas to allow visits.
Mrs Marshall said her mother, who has an MBE for services to the elderly, ‘has been imprisoned and abandoned’.
Catherine Marshall with her mother Dorothy Clarke
Sheffield City Council has reportedly told care providers not to use the tests on staff, residents or visitors while it seeks clarification from the Government about the kits appearing to have an ‘unacceptably high risk’ of not detecting the virus.
Last week, the Department of Health and Social Care wrote to all care homes in England announcing the national rollout of tests for visitors. Managers have been told they will receive supplies of rapid lateral flow tests within weeks, enabling safe in-person visits by Christmas.
However, some managers have already told relatives they do not have enough funding or staff to conduct the tests so they will continue to ban visitors.
Other homes have told relatives they will be banned from seeing their loved ones at all on Christmas Day – even to wave at them through a window.
The National Care Forum, which represents care homes providers, said an urgent injection of funding was needed to fulfil Boris Johnson’s pledge for all care home residents to be able to hold hands with loved ones at Christmas.
Vic Rayner, director of the organisation, said: ‘Unless the Government provides care homes with more funding to enable visiting, you are setting homes up to fail, and setting residents and relatives up to be disappointed and distressed.
‘Supervising visitors and performing tests costs time and money and requires more staff. Care homes shouldn’t have to choose between looking after residents or allowing visitors.’
Diane Mayhew, from campaign group Rights for Residents, said: ‘We’re really worried about the differences in approaches that every care home and every local authority is taking.
‘It’s becoming increasingly clear that a lot of care homes are finding ways to wriggle out of providing visits.
‘The only way visits will happen everywhere at Christmas is if the Government issues clearer guidance to make visits mandatory. Care providers also need the resources and money to have staff to administer these tests.’
Gavin Terry, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘Local decision-makers and care homes just can’t be left having to make the call to keep their doors shut this Christmas.
‘This postcode lottery comes off the back off a tokenistic funding pledge to the social care sector in the spending review and demonstrates how completely overstretched the social care system is.
‘People in care homes do not have time on their side – for many, even Christmas will be too late.’
While some care homes are stubbornly keeping visitors out, others are already making arrangements for loved ones to hug and hold hands with residents on Christmas Day.
Adam Purnell, manager of the Kepplegate home in Lancashire, has ordered his own supply of rapid tests for visitors.
He said: ‘There’s one gentleman who comes every year and has Christmas dinner with his wife, and he was really panicking he wouldn’t be able to see her.
‘Organising the visits and testing requires a lot of hard work but it will be worth it all to see them together at Christmas. I can’t wait for them to be reunited.’
Families baffled by advice on taking granny home
Confusion reigned last night after ministers urged families not to take care residents home for Christmas – but admitted that it was not against the law to do so.
Official guidance states that residents of care homes aged over 65 should not spend the festive season with their families because the risk of contracting coronavirus increases with ‘age and vulnerability’. But the legal regulations, published yesterday, do not include any such prohibition.
It has added to the farcical situation of the Government allowing people in care homes to form a Christmas bubble with relatives – at the same time as urging them not to do so.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘While there is nothing legally to stop care home residents of any age from leaving the home, the scientific advice and strong guidance is this is a risk and the risk increases with age and vulnerability.’ It means families cannot be fined if they take relatives out of homes to attend a family Christmas meal.
Gavin Terry, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘It would be useful to have clearer guidance from Government for families and care homes, to help them navigate potentially tricky conversations between care homes and families about whether people can leave safely for Christmas.
‘Quick turnaround testing would be crucial if people with dementia were to leave care homes to be with their families – to help protect other people in the home when they come back. With the pilot for testing of visitors finishing in a few weeks, we need all hands to the pump to get testing rolled out across the country.’