Coronavirus UK: Relatives demand government restarts essential care home visits by March

Relatives have pleaded with the Government to restart essential care home visits by next month.

Six groups called for urgent action to reopen care homes in England ‘as a matter of safety, common decency, and fundamental human rights’.

It comes after a couple married for 61 years celebrated moving into the same care home together with their first kiss in eight months. 

Meanwhile, Brendan, a helpline caller who has received two vaccine doses, has only had two meaningful visits to see his wife of more than 60 years since England entered lockdown on March 23.

And an elderly woman separated from her dementia-hit husband while his care home was closed for visitors was reunited just minutes before he died on January 1.  

Six groups called for urgent action to reopen care homes in England 'as a matter of safety and fundamental human rights'. Pictured, 95-year-old Second World War veteran Signalman Eric Bradshaw, is pictured on VE day last year at Anchor's Millfield care home in Oldham

Six groups called for urgent action to reopen care homes in England 'as a matter of safety and fundamental human rights'. Pictured, 95-year-old Second World War veteran Signalman Eric Bradshaw, is pictured on VE day last year at Anchor's Millfield care home in Oldham

Six groups called for urgent action to reopen care homes in England ‘as a matter of safety and fundamental human rights’. Pictured, 95-year-old Second World War veteran Signalman Eric Bradshaw, is pictured on VE day last year at Anchor’s Millfield care home in Oldham

As a first step, campaigners say visits must be in place for relatives who help with essential care by March 1.

They are calling on care providers, relatives and friends, local and national government and the care regulator to ‘work together to make this a reality’.

Susan Ogden had desperately wanted to hold her husband Peter’s hand following nine months of separation due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But when the moment they were reunited finally arrived on New Year’s Day, it was only to say her final goodbye to her partner of 51 years.

The couple, both 72, were separated in March 2020 when care homes closed to visitors to protect residents from the virus.  

Mary Orme (right) and her son Michael McKimm embrace their mother and grandmother, Rose McKimm, during a Christmas Day visit at Aspen Hill Village care home in Hunslet, Leeds

Mary Orme (right) and her son Michael McKimm embrace their mother and grandmother, Rose McKimm, during a Christmas Day visit at Aspen Hill Village care home in Hunslet, Leeds

Mary Orme (right) and her son Michael McKimm embrace their mother and grandmother, Rose McKimm, during a Christmas Day visit at Aspen Hill Village care home in Hunslet, Leeds

However, Susan’s hopes of one day being reunited with her husband came to a tragic end when Peter developed a chest infection and died on January 1.

For the last month she had been living in fear that Peter could have died before they saw each other after her scheduled visit days earlier had been cancelled because of a surge in coronavirus cases.

Susan, from North Shields, said: ‘All that protecting didn’t manage to save Peter’s life.

‘There’s a deep sadness that follows his death that although you know you didn’t let him down, you feel that you did let him down.’

Susan said she spent approximately 10 minutes with Peter before he died and described feeling in a ‘state of shock’.

Susan Ogden (pictured with Peter in Algarve in 2016), 72, was separated from her dementia-hit husband Peter in a care home while it was closed for visitors, before the couple were reunited just minutes before he died on January 1

Susan Ogden (pictured with Peter in Algarve in 2016), 72, was separated from her dementia-hit husband Peter in a care home while it was closed for visitors, before the couple were reunited just minutes before he died on January 1

Susan Ogden (pictured with Peter in Algarve in 2016), 72, was separated from her dementia-hit husband Peter in a care home while it was closed for visitors, before the couple were reunited just minutes before he died on January 1

She added: ‘When I saw him I froze. I hope he knew I was there.’ 

Age UK, John’s Campaign, the National Care Forum, Relatives & Residents, Rights for Residents and Registered Nursing Homes Association have issued a joint statement demanding the Government allow Britons to see their loved ones before it’s too late. 

They say: ‘If we delay any longer, many residents will have waited more than a year to see and touch their loved ones. This is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.

‘The absence of meaningful indoor visiting fails to recognise the fundamental role that relationships and love play in a resident’s wellbeing.’

The rollout of rapid-result lateral flow tests in the weeks up to Christmas enabled indoor visits in some care homes, with visitors testing negative able to hug their loved ones.

How care homes closed to visitors during coronavirus lockdown 

Relatives have spent lockdown visiting their loved ones from the other side of care home windows. Here’s how the Government’s policy changed:

March 10/12: Some homes decided to close their doors to visitors, with care groups Barchester and HC-One stopping non-essential visits.

March 11: Scottish Care advised care homes to close to visits.

March 13: Government guidance changed to ‘care home providers are advised to review their visiting policy, by asking no-one to visit who has suspected Covid-19 or is generally unwell, and by emphasising good hand hygiene for visitors’.

March 16: The Prime Minister said ‘we don’t want to see people unnecessarily visiting care homes’.

April 2: Department of Health and Social Care said ‘family and friends should be advised not to visit care homes, except next of kin in exceptional situations such as end of life’.

June: Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced visitors would be allowed to see loved ones in care homes.

September: Care homes were advised to close to visitors amid a new wave in coronavirus cases. 

December: Mr Hancock said visits could resume amid the roll out of 30 minute lateral flow tests. 

January: Despite the third lockdown, visits involving screens, pods and through windows continue.   

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Close contact indoor visits are not permitted during the current lockdown, but they can take place outdoors, through windows, in visiting pods, or indoors with a substantial screen.

Last week, the Prime Minister appealed for caution because ‘far too many’ deaths of older people are still occurring.

The Government has said it is looking to ensure a wider range of visiting arrangements are made available ‘when it is safe to do so’.

The charities and groups want relatives to be ‘recognised as central to the person’s care; enabled to provide the support crucial to the health and well-being of their loved one; and provided with relevant personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing in line with the safety measures applied to the staff’.

They say care homes need to use individualised assessments to balance the risk of harm from the virus with the risk of harm from isolation.

Care homes should also be better supported to enable meaningful visits, they added. ‘Ultimately it is impossible to entirely eliminate risk.’

‘Providers, commissioners, relatives, friends, regulators and the wider public must recognise this as a shared priority – holding a collective responsibility for what we know is right for humanity.’

Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said: ‘Almost a year of isolation is having a devastating impact on older people in care.

‘Our helpline hears the distress, despair and heartbreak of separation, and the desperation for a light at the end of the tunnel.

‘We must safely reconnect families and friends, to stop the human rights crisis unfolding in care.’

Brendan, who surname was not revealed, was able to hug his wife Joan and hold her hand at Christmas, but is now only able to have window visits.

As it is too cold to stand outside, he writes notes telling his wife he loves her and holds them up to the window.

He said: ‘This is what we are reduced to. The past year has been hell.

‘Something must be in place in care homes to let us see our loved ones. I don’t care about anything else, only being with Joan.’

Meanwhile, Lewis Tunnicliffe, 84, and his wife Barbara, 81, were reunited at Bradwell Hall care home in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, on February 5 after being apart since July last year.

The couple had never spent longer than a few days apart and had been inseparable since they tied the knot in 1960.

But Barbara was forced to move into Bradwell Hall care home last summer after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Lewis Tunnicliffe, 84, and his wife Barbara, 81, were reunited at Bradwell Hall care home in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, on February 5 after being apart since July last year

Lewis Tunnicliffe, 84, and his wife Barbara, 81, were reunited at Bradwell Hall care home in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, on February 5 after being apart since July last year

Lewis Tunnicliffe, 84, and his wife Barbara, 81, were reunited at Bradwell Hall care home in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, on February 5 after being apart since July last year

The couple, who met in 1958 and have two daughters and four grandchildren, had been apart since July last year. Pictured, their wedding day in 1960

The couple, who met in 1958 and have two daughters and four grandchildren, had been apart since July last year. Pictured, their wedding day in 1960

The couple, who met in 1958 and have two daughters and four grandchildren, had been apart since July last year. Pictured, their wedding day in 1960

Due to Covid restrictions Lewis could only visit her once a week while separated by a glass screen and was unable to hug or hold her hand. 

Tear-jerking footage filmed by staff captured the moving moment the pair were reunited with Lewis embracing Barbara, telling her: ‘You’re beautiful’.

As they held hands and hugged, Lewis said: ‘I’ve waited so long for this’ and ‘I’ll be stopping here now.’ 

The couple, who met in 1958 and have two daughters and four grandchildren, had been apart since July last year.

Daughter Sam Jackson, 52, asked care home staff to film their long-awaited reunion on Friday.

She said her father was anxious that Barbara wouldn’t recognise him and he described it as ‘like having their first date again.’

Digby Manor Residential Care Home resident George, whose surname is unknown, is pictured during a visit with a loved one

Digby Manor Residential Care Home resident George, whose surname is unknown, is pictured during a visit with a loved one

Digby Manor Residential Care Home resident George, whose surname is unknown, is pictured during a visit with a loved one 

Nicky Clough looks through the window at her mother Pam Harrison opening a present on Christmas Day at Alexander House Care Home in Wimbledon

Nicky Clough looks through the window at her mother Pam Harrison opening a present on Christmas Day at Alexander House Care Home in Wimbledon

Nicky Clough looks through the window at her mother Pam Harrison opening a present on Christmas Day at Alexander House Care Home in Wimbledon

The married mother-of-one, from Stoke-on-Trent, said: ‘He was apprehensive and didn’t sleep the night before he was so nervous. He had a shave that morning and said it was like having a first date again.

‘The girls at the home did mum’s hair and her nails. They were absolutely great. He has always been loved up with her since they first met when he was 20.

‘It was very emotional to watch the video and bitter sweet really to have both parents in care homes. But we were delighted to see them back together after so long apart. It was wonderful to see them holding hands and smiling and so emotional.

‘Now they spend all day sitting together, eating together and holding hands. I did ask the hall if they would video it because no family was able to be there.

‘Dad has missed her so much over the summer although he has been in a bubble with my sister, he has been very lonely.’

Heartbroken wife who was separated from her dementia-hit husband in care home while it was closed for visitors for nine months are reunited just minutes before he died 

A devastated wife has spoken of her ‘deep sadness’ at being reunited with her dementia-hit husband just minutes before he died.

Susan Ogden had desperately wanted to hold her husband Peter’s hand following nine months of separation due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But when the moment they were reunited finally arrived on New Year’s Day, it was only to say her final goodbye to her partner of 51 years.

The couple, both 72, were separated in March 2020 when care homes closed to visitors to protect residents from the virus. 

Devastated wife Susan Ogden has spoken of her 'deep sadness' at being reunited with her dementia-hit husband Peter just minutes before he died. They had not seen each other in nine months

Devastated wife Susan Ogden has spoken of her 'deep sadness' at being reunited with her dementia-hit husband Peter just minutes before he died. They had not seen each other in nine months

Devastated wife Susan Ogden has spoken of her ‘deep sadness’ at being reunited with her dementia-hit husband Peter just minutes before he died. They had not seen each other in nine months

However, Susan’s hopes of one day being reunited with her husband came to a tragic end when Peter developed a chest infection and died on January 1.

For the last month she had been living in fear that Peter could have died before they saw each other after her scheduled visit days earlier had been cancelled because of a surge in coronavirus cases.

Susan, from North Shields, said: ‘All that protecting didn’t manage to save Peter’s life.

‘There’s a deep sadness that follows his death that although you know you didn’t let him down, you feel that you did let him down.’

Susan said she spent approximately 10 minutes with Peter before he died and described feeling in a ‘state of shock’.

She added: ‘When I saw him I froze. I hope he knew I was there.’ 

Susan's hopes of one day being reunited with her husband came to a tragic end when Peter developed a chest infection and died on January 1

Susan's hopes of one day being reunited with her husband came to a tragic end when Peter developed a chest infection and died on January 1

Susan’s hopes of one day being reunited with her husband came to a tragic end when Peter developed a chest infection and died on January 1

Peter moved into a care home four years ago after being diagnosed with advanced dementia.

Although amended Covid restrictions permitted care homes visits, Susan felt socially distanced visits could have been confusing and distressing for Peter.

She added that the most effective way to communicate with someone living with advanced dementia is through touch.

Susan had tried to call for a change to coronavirus restrictions which would allow family carers permission to visit their loved ones in a care home, providing they were regularly tested for Covid-19 and wore appropriate PPE.

She added: ‘It seemed a real irony that he died on New Year’s Day. It’s the beginning of a new year and a time when people are filled with hope for better days ahead.

‘But for me and my family it started in the worst possible way.’ 

Peter is also deeply missed by his children, Tim, 46, and Kate, 44, as well as his four grandchildren.

His youngest granddaughter Isla, aged eight, composed a special song about her grandad reflecting on the memories they shared together.

And in December she sold a number of her toys and donated the £15 she received to Dementia UK in the hope of helping her grandad and others living with dementia.

Susan had been living in fear that Peter, her husband of 51 years, could have died before they saw each other after her scheduled visit days earlier had been cancelled because of a surge in coronavirus cases

Susan had been living in fear that Peter, her husband of 51 years, could have died before they saw each other after her scheduled visit days earlier had been cancelled because of a surge in coronavirus cases

Susan had been living in fear that Peter, her husband of 51 years, could have died before they saw each other after her scheduled visit days earlier had been cancelled because of a surge in coronavirus cases

Following the news of his passing, Isla told her mum Kate: ‘The £15 I gave obviously didn’t help grandad, maybe I should have given £50.’

Now family and friends have raised £3,000 for the charity in Peter’s memory through donations at his funeral on January 14.

Susan has also previously raised over £4,000 for Dementia UK in 2020 through a 1,000 mile sponsored walk where she visited the places which hold great significance to herself and Peter.

Minister for Care Helen Whately said: ‘This pandemic is so cruel, especially for those living in care homes. I know just how important visits are for the health and wellbeing of residents.

‘That’s why we have set out safe visiting guidance for care homes during this national lockdown, but we know residents and their families are desperate to be able to visit as normal.

‘Older people in care homes are rightly the top priority for the vaccine and I am delighted we have vaccinated residents at over 10,000 eligible care homes.

‘However, I ask people to continue to be patient as it’s still so soon since many residents have been vaccinated and we don’t know yet how well it prevents transmission.

‘We are constantly looking at how to support safe visiting in care homes. I’m determined to reunite friends and family with loved ones again as soon as it’s safe to do so.’ 

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