CAMPAIGNERS have urged spiritual leaders to speak out strongly on behalf of care-home residents who continue to be denied family visits.
As residential homes continue to reduce footfall and control infection, even close family members are deemed “non-essential”. They have no hope of reconnection with their loved ones until those relatives are dying, John’s Campaign, a member of the One Dementia Group, has said.
In a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, dated 1 August, it argues strongly that spouses pledged to care for each other “in sickness and in health”, and children wishing to cherish their parents in old age were being denied the fundamental right to stand by their lifelong commitments and the ethical framework by which they live.
“These are matters of conscience as well as expressions of deepest love,” a founding member of John’s Campaign, Julia Jones, said on Monday. “It’s as if family bonds are take-it-or-leave-it instead of the most important commitments in people’s lives. Many people are very distressed, and someone needs to take a lead.”
John’s Campaign has publicised a letter from one resident’s wife, Sally Goodman, to the care company that does not allow her access to her husband as he struggles to recuperate from Covid-19 and the effects of prolonged deconditioning and dementia. She is self-isolating, and sees no reason why, with the necessary strict precautions, she cannot be with him in a “support bubble”, as she was allowed to be when he was distressed in hospital.
While he was there, Mrs Goodman obtained permission from the chief nurse to be with him almost every day. Her husband’s care home has a blanket ban on indoor visiting, however. While she describes the care as good, and the management and staff as “lovely and doing their best under challenging circumstances”, she regards the one-rule-for-all as draconian.
“In order to communicate properly, my husband needs close contact, with me holding his hand, cuddling him. Just sitting a couple of metres away from him really doesn’t work, as he doesn’t understand,” she writes. “He tries to get up from the wheelchair to get to me, but of course is strapped in so he can’t. And that is what will make the crucial difference to his ongoing care and quality of life — as far as is possible.
“It is clear to everyone that my husband needs me with him. It is really a breach of his human rights not to be allowed visits from the person who loves him most, and it is utterly heartbreaking to see how much he is deteriorating. . . I am sure that anyone would understand, if it was explained to them, that an exception can be made, based on a robust assessment of need and risk.”
The campaigners state: “Public trust in government guidance has sunk to such a level that some care-home managers are openly saying that they will ‘never’ allow family visitors in their homes again — all will be managed in gardens, through windows or in specially constructed ‘pods’.
“Other homes are in a welter of anxiety concerning testing systems, insurance, and the supply of protective equipment. People are struggling to make risk assessments for others, and there is no space for the individual conscience.”
Methodist Homes for the Aged (MHA) are acknowledged to be leading the way in formulating a policy that recognises the essential and practical part that some family members continue to play in the lives of care-home residents. One resident’s daughter told John’s Campaign that conscientious care-home staff were being run into the ground with exhaustion, “because people in administrative and managerial positions clearly had no idea how much these regular visitors actually did.
“We didn’t just hold hands and reminisce with the people we came to see: we encouraged them to eat and drink, kept them active, cut their toenails, brushed their teeth, mended their clothes.
“When they were dying, we didn’t just pop in ‘to say goodbye’: we kept vigil, talked to them, played music, prayed maybe, watched for inarticulate signs of distress which we could then report to a palliative-care professional. Good care staff worked with us as part of a team.”
John’s Campaign on Tuesday described as a “a potential game-changer” the MHA’s new policy, “More Than Just A Visitor”, on which it has been working for some time. It defines an essential family carer as “a resident’s family member or friend whose care for the resident is an essential element of maintaining their mental or physical health. Without this input a resident is like to suffer significant distress or continued distress.”
John’s Campaign clarifies: “Our letter [to church leaders] is not a criticism of care homes: it is a criticism of Government, who have failed to make it clear that care home systems should be designed to allow such essential visitors essential access (if they choose), not keep them socially distant.”