Lisa Nandy MP: Help bring families back together

This year’s Remembrance Sunday service was quieter than usual due to the current coronavirus restrictions but no less moving.
Lisa Nandy MPLisa Nandy MP
Lisa Nandy MP

As always it was an important opportunity to remember the great sacrifice made by so many who gave their lives to defend our freedom.

Many of the surviving veterans who played their part during the Second World War are now residents in our local care homes.

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One of the issues that I have been most frequently contacted about since the pandemic first hit is the difficulties that families and loved ones have had in being able to visit residents of care homes during the various phases of restrictions and lockdowns that we have experienced.

There has always been a difficult balancing act between keeping coronavirus out of our care homes and protecting residents and staff and allowing people to have the vital contact they need with their family and loved ones.

However, with some care home residents not having even had a socially distanced visit for nine months and, despite the recent hope that progress around vaccinations brings, the prospect of continued restrictions lasting for some time something has to be done to bring families together. The impact on a loved one in a care home of not being able to see their family is immense.

Family members of care home residents have consistently told me that visiting restrictions have had an adverse impact on the mental and physical health of their loved ones.

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These concerns are echoed by charities including the Alzheimer’s Society who have reported that the isolation experienced by care home residents with dementia has resulted in a more rapid deterioration in their condition.

Deaths from dementia have increased by over 50 per cent in the last six months and the Alzheimer’s Society have said that they suspect isolation, fewer visitors and the resulting onset of depression has contributed to this shocking statistic.

The heart-breaking footage last week of a 73 year old retired nurse sitting handcuffed in a police car after trying to remove her 97 year old mother who has dementia from a care home in Yorkshire shows just how desperate this situation has become.

I know that staff in our local care homes are doing everything that they can to keep residents safe and well at this difficult time. Some local care homes have been very creative in finding solutions to allowing contact between residents and visitors.

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A good example has been the “Covid Secure” lodge set up by two care homes in Standish which has facilitated visits and even celebrations such a birthday meals to take place. But not all homes have been able to develop such schemes leading to a postcode lottery in visiting arrangements.

The Government have only very recently acknowledged the true impact that receiving visitors has on improving the health and wellbeing of care home residents.

Just hours before the second lockdown began the Government performed another U-turn by producing guidance stating that visiting was important and laying out how it might be enabled in care homes. Previously the Government had said that visiting should be stopped in areas with tier 2 and tier 3 restrictions apart from in exceptional circumstances such as at the end of life.

While this change in tone was welcome, the guidance for how care homes could help facilitate visits, including erecting ceiling to floor plastic screens or limiting contact to “window visits” have been described as “ridiculous”, too restrictive and inappropriate for residents with conditions such as dementia or sensory loss by charities such as Alzheimer’s UK and Age UK.

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Many care homes simply won’t be able to comply with the Government’s requirements meaning that in reality rather than making it easier for residents to have contact with their families it will actually make it harder.

It doesn’t need to be like this. As recommended by charities, researchers and professionals in the health and care sector the Government should allow for certain family members to be designated as “key visitors” who would be eligible for regular testing, PPE and training alongside care home staff, so they can visit frequently and for longer.

Care homes should also be given funding and support required to create coronavirus safe spaces so that visits from a wider number of family members and loved ones can be accommodated.