Distraught families told they could hug loved ones in care homes at
A string of councils and major care home groups are refusing to follow new national rules stating that everyone should get meaningful visits from their families.
Some people have already been told they can’t see relatives in care over the festive period – not even to wave at them through a window.
With less than two weeks until Christmas,
Sarah Jackson with her mother Mary Garbe. Sarah’s mother went into a BUPA care home in July – and that was the last time she saw her face-to-face.
Sylvia Haycock, 86 at Whiteley Village care home gets a visit from her daughter Sharon Maycock-Prime, 54 from Staines after her daughter has a rapid result Covid-19 test
An audit by the Mail found four major care home chains and nine councils were refusing to use rapid tests for visitors, which establish whether they can be admitted to premises, due to ‘unfounded’ concerns about their accuracy.
We can hold hands for the first time in months
When her mother’s care home announced it was to begin testing visitors who wanted to drop in on loved ones, Sharon Maycock-Prime was first in line for the trial.
The 54-year-old was a ‘guinea pig’ for the new system, which allowed her to hug and kiss her mum Sylvia Maycock without any screens in place. And she could not believe the power of physical contact after being deprived of it for several months.
The pensioner, a former dinnerlady, was living independently until March this year when she suffered a fall that was so severe it caused a bleed on her brain.
The 86-year-old is now a resident of the Eliza Palmer hub at the Whiteley Homes Trust in Elmbridge, Surrey which started rolling out lateral flow tests last week.
Before that, mother and daughter were able to meet outdoors, but had to remain at a distance. However, the pair can now share some much-needed hugs. And since Mrs Maycock is mostly non-verbal, cuddling is the best way to connect with her.
Mrs Maycock-Prime said: ‘We spent ages just kissing and cuddling and talking. I’m worried I exhausted her because I couldn’t stop talking! I think it was a bit of a shock.’
Diane Mayhew, of the campaign group Rights for Residents, said: ‘Families have already been through nine months of hell and now they face a further betrayal from councils and care homes.’ The charity Age UK told the Government, councils and care home bosses: ‘Pull out the stops to get in-person visiting up and running.’
Last week, following a Daily Mail campaign, the Government promised that millions of the ‘lateral flow tests’ would be rolled out to care homes by the end of next week so residents and families could be reunited.
It said visitors who tested negative for Covid would be allowed to hold loved-ones for the first time in months.
Many reunions have taken place since then, but charities warn ‘progress is stalling’, with tens of thousands of residents ‘held hostage’ by care homes and councils.
Some homes have suggested hugging visitors will not be possible until everybody has been vaccinated, which may not be until March.
Those refusing to allow physical contact include major providers such as Bupa, MHA, Barchester Care and Anchor Hanover, which between them look after tens of thousands of residents.
The Mail has seen letters sent from care homes to relatives defending their decision not to use the tests and, in some cases, insisting that visitors must talk to elderly care home residents through prison-style Perspex screens.
Many raise concerns about the accuracy of lateral flow tests, which give results within 30 minutes but are less accurate than the standard polymerise chain reaction (PCR) tests.
However, a major study by Oxford University and Public Health England last month concluded lateral flow tests were sufficiently accurate.
Don’t managers know how important it is to have proper contact?
Sarah Jackson’s mother Mary went into a Bupa care home in July – and that was the last time she had proper contact with her.
‘I took her to the door, they took her away and that was that,’ she said. ‘I’ve only seen her through a window since then.’ Mrs Jackson has already been told she will not be able to hug or hold hands with her 93-year-old mum, who has dementia, over Christmas.
The best she can hope for is a socially-distant visit through a screen at a ‘visiting pod’. Even then, the home in Stowmarket, Suffolk, will not have capacity for every resident to receive a visit.
Mrs Jackson said: ‘They still haven’t got the lateral flow tests yet but have told us that even when they do implement visitor testing, we won’t have physical contact.
‘Mum just wants to hug me and come close. The carers in the home have been amazing, and say they don’t understand why we aren’t allowed in. But the senior management at big care homes including Bupa seem unable to deal with it and realise how important visiting is.
‘It should be their priority to get visitors in. I don’t understand how care staff are allowed to have their normal Christmas with families but we can’t be together.’
But a Bupa spokesman insisted: ‘The Government’s advice clearly states that direct contact should be discouraged and that lateral flow tests are between 50 per cent and 75 per cent effective. That is why we are using them in conjunction with existing infection control measures and asking relatives to temporarily refrain from contact.
‘We’ll continue to review this as guidance changes.’
Last night, campaigners accused care homes of being overly risk-averse, with the Alzheimer’s Society warning: ‘There is no point ‘saving’ people from coronavirus if they’re dying from loneliness.’
Miss Mayhew added: ‘Care providers are finding every obstacle they can, with the help of local authorities, to prevent visits. There is no point sending out millions of these tests to care homes if they are then going to refuse to use them. The tests are deemed to be safe.
‘It’s time for the Government to intervene and confirm this publicly so care homes can no longer wriggle out of providing visits.
‘The clock is ticking. Many people in care homes are nearing the end of their lives. They don’t have months, weeks or days to wait.’
Some care homes that want to allow indoor visits have had their hands tied by local authorities, which have ordered them not to use the tests. The Daily Mail has also identified nine councils that have imposed restrictions or expressed concerns about the use of rapid Covid tests for visitors.
This includes Liverpool City Council, which is forcing relatives to take three tests on the day of a planned visit, as well as insisting: ‘There can be no hugging.’
In Norfolk, where infection rates are among the lowest in the country, the county council said only outdoor or virtual visits should be encouraged, and insisted most ‘care providers are not in a position to start lateral flow testing’.
Last night, charities said that the tests must be rolled out immediately, ‘no ifs, no buts’, warning that the lack of contact is leading to residents ‘giving up on life’.
Caroline Abrahams, from Age UK, said: ‘We’ve heard that some care homes are suggesting they want to delay visiting until everyone has been vaccinated, but this would mean another lengthy delay. Literally every day counts for many of these older people.
‘Far too many older people and their families are stuck in limbo, agonising over whether they’ll ever see each other again.’
Fiona Carragher, of the Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘Giving families the chance to look into each other’s eyes, hold hands and hug again must be done before it’s too late.’
Age UK said some care homes claimed they could not allow visits as a result of insurance issues.
In a poll of 2,732 people, it found 70 per cent had not been able to visit or see their loved-ones since the pandemic began.
A respondent said: ‘I feel as though I have locked my parents away and thrown the key away.’
Judy Downey, of the Relatives and Residents Association, said most calls to its helpline were about restricted visits, adding: ‘Government guidance seems to give people hope, then take it away. The confusion is compounded by the chaos of the tests.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘Extensive testing has shown lateral flow devices are suitable for use in care homes. Care home residents in all tiers will have the chance to see relatives before Christmas.
‘Homes across the country are arranging visits now.’
£690 a week fees – but I can’t see Mum
The only way Gavin Egan can see his mum Carole is by standing in the freezing cold and looking at her through a pane of glass.
Mrs Egan lives in a Hampshire care home run by major provider Anchor Hanover.
Yet he is astonished that the company – which charges private rates starting at £690 a week per resident – has not found a way to provide meaningful visits.
Gavin Egan and his mother Carole
He said: ‘I’m starting to resign myself to the fact we won’t see her before Christmas. We have heard nothing about tests for visitors. Our only option is window visits in the freezing cold – are we meant to pass her Christmas presents through the window?
‘The gap between what the Government has promised and the reality on the ground is huge.’
Mr Egan was able to see his mother, 87, during summer for distanced outdoor visits. But since lockdown was re-imposed in November, only window visits have been allowed. He explained: ‘Time is very precious and every day counts when you don’t know how much time you’ve got left. Window visits are very difficult, I don’t know if she can hear us.
‘I have no criticism of those working in care homes, but it’s remarkable that senior managers at such a big company have not come up with a plan to get relatives into homes. Yes, it costs money. But how can you put a price on reuniting families?’
A surprise visit for grandma, 98
Marjorie Titheridge has remained characteristically stoic throughout the pandemic.
But even she struggled to contain her emotions when her granddaughter Rebecca Parsons, 27, paid her a surprise visit this week – their first meaningful contact since February.
The 98-year-old, who helped to repair Spitfires during the Second World War, had been expecting to see her daughter Ruth Parsons. But she was ‘thrilled’ when Rebecca turned up as well.
Rebecca Parsons sees her grandmother Marjorie Titheridge for the first time since February
The trio were able to hold hands and chat properly in Marjorie’s room at Brendoncare Meadway care home in Winchester.
Mrs Parsons, 64, said: ‘There’s something very special about being able to go into her room and speak to her face-to-face. It’s a more natural setting. It felt like normal again.’
The home has been trialling lateral flow tests – which can identify Covid very quickly – for four weeks and will carry on using them to enable meaningful visits.
The companies and councils resisting the rules
MHA: The UK’s largest charity care provider, with 90 care homes and 5,000 residents, is not allowing hugs, hand-holding or close-contact visits. It told relatives it had ‘real concerns about… lateral flow tests’.
Barchester Healthcare: The group, with 14,500 residents in 250 homes, said: ‘The risk of introducing this deadly virus by a visitor who has wrongly tested negative is too great for the test to be used routinely.’
BUPA: No close contact between visitors and loved ones in its 130 homes, even with the tests. Instead, it is creating visiting rooms with floor-to-ceiling screens.
Avery Healthcare: Told families of residents at its 56 homes it would not use lateral flow tests over concerns about their accuracy.
Sheffield: Said the test had an ‘unacceptably high risk’ of being wrong and should not be used until the Government proved it was safe.
Newcastle: A spokesman said: ‘These tests are not being used to facilitate visits yet.’
East Riding of Yorkshire: Relatives must wait for the vaccine.