Let me be with my wife: Wigan doctor launches legal challenge against Covid-19 care home restrictions
Michelle Davies, 58, lacks mental capacity after suffering a brain aneurysm in December 2018. Since then she has been receiving specialist rehabilitative care, including in care homes, with the aim of her returning home to her family in Leigh, Wigan.
Her husband, Dr John Davies, has not had physical contact with his wife of 37 years since March. He was allowed to take part in a handful of socially distanced visits when lockdown restrictions were temporarily lifted in the summer. However, John, 60, and son Kane, 33, have not been allowed to see Michelle again since lockdown restrictions were re-introduced in Greater Manchester at the end of July.
John, who has been legally appointed to represent his wife’s best interests, believes that restrictions preventing her family from having contact are having a detrimental impact on Michelle’s rehabilitation, are adversely affecting her mental health and breach her human rights.
He has instructed Irwin Mitchell’s specialist public law and human rights team to launch a legal challenge in the Court of Protection on John’s behalf.
The family are calling on Wigan Council and Wigan Borough Clinical Commissioning Group - which are responsible for Michelle’s care - to carry out bespoke risk assessments, allowing people to visit their loved ones in care homes, while maintaining Covid-19 protocols.
Following Monday’s hearing, the local authority and CCG have agreed to meet with John to try and reach an agreement on new contact arrangements between Michelle and her family.
Earlier this month, the Government issued guidance encouraging care homes to provide ‘safe visiting opportunities’ while national restrictions were in force. This included tailoring visits to the specific needs of residents.
Mathieu Culverhouse, the legal expert at Irwin Mitchell, representing the family, said: “While it’s only right that measures are in place that reduce the spread of Covid-19, particularly among some of society’s most vulnerable, these need to be balanced with ensuring the human rights of people are upheld and families can interact.
“John and Kane are devastated that they’ve been unable to have meaningful contact with Michelle since the start of the pandemic. They’re particularly concerned about the impact this is having on Michelle’s recovery and quality of life.
“Access to visiting loved ones in care homes is an important and incredibly emotive issue. Each case will turn on its own facts and will require families and agencies to work together to find a sensible solution.
“John would rather not be in this position, but felt he had little choice but to bring this legal challenge after many months of frustration. We welcome the indication from the council and clinical commissioning group that they will work with John to come to an agreement and we look forward to working with them to achieve this.”
Michelle, a former social services clerk, suffered a brain aneurysm and stroke in December 2018. She was discharged from hospital 11 months later to a care home. She moved to a different home last week. Neither can be named for legal reasons.
Michelle is reliant on the support of her carers for all aspects of her care. John says, while her speech is limited, she is able to understand things that are said to her and she can communicate through facial expressions and a limited number of short phrases.
Up until 17 March, when the home Michelle was in at the time first stopped visits, John would visit his wife for a minimum of three hours a day. He had visited her every day for 15 months.
He and Kane were not allowed to visit Michelle for 16 weeks. During this time, she was diagnosed with and treated for coronavirus, and spent seven weeks confined to her room.
On 6 July visiting restrictions were eased allowing the family two 30-minute visits a week with them being required to maintain a two metre distance and wear face masks.
However, visiting was stopped again at the end of July when restrictions were re-introduced.
Since then John and Kane have only been able to have contact via video call.
John, who is aged 60 and is a retired academic, said: “Michelle is such a loving and caring person and has always put the needs of her friends and family before her own.
“Over the last two years, coming to terms with how life has changed for us has been hugely challenging. We have focused all our efforts on getting Michelle the best possible care so that she can come back home to her family where she belongs.
“We’ve spent thousands of hours with Michelle helping and encouraging her. While her speech is limited, we believe that she’s fully aware of everything that’s going on.
“We have been together for 40 years and it’s been hard enough living apart while she has been in hospital and care homes, but not being allowed to have any meaningful contact with Michelle for the last eight months has been heart-breaking.
“We’re only too aware of the dangers of coronavirus as Michelle has had it and both Kane and I are sure that we had it in the first lockdown period when testing wasn’t available. I am glad that we have had video calls, but they are a poor substitute for being together properly. The involvement of family and friends is critical to individuals who are undergoing neurorehabilitation and this has been denied to Michelle for an extended period. I believe that this has hindered her progress significantly and has adversely affected her mental health.
“Our family isn’t the only one in similar circumstances and there are many others no doubt feeling like we do. All we want is for there to be a common sense approach. We feel that much more needs to be done to allow families to visit their loved ones in care settings while upholding the need to maintain the safety of everyone.
“There has been a failure to treat Michelle as an individual over the last eight months. Instead, she has been dealt with as one member of a huge amorphous group of people living in care homes. These people have names, families and lives. This one is called Michelle Davies.”
A spokesperson for Wigan Council said: “As this is an ongoing case, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further on this individual matter.”