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Care-home prisoners still denied their rights


ON July 19 some of the most draconian Covid legal restrictions were removed in England, with each individual legally free to choose about mask wearing, social distancing, social mixing and visiting everyday venues. Except for those without a free will and without a voice, the most vulnerable group in our society.

Despite being the first cohort to be fully vaccinated, many thousands of care-home residents continue to be treated like prisoners and denied the same rights as everyone else – the right to be treated with basic human dignity and respect, not to mention the right to family life in particular.

From the beginning of the Covid restrictions to July 2021, more than 200,000 care home residents died in England and Wales, with more than 40,000 of the deaths involving Covid (according to ONS figures). 

Because of draconian visiting restrictions, the overwhelming majority of these 200,000 died having spent their last months, weeks and days alone, with no loving family members at their side at their time of greatest need for emotional comfort and support.

Those forcibly separated family members, after months of anguish and worry, have been left with unbearable guilt at their original care-home placement decision and inability to be present at the end of their loved one’s life.

There are good and not so good care-home managers and staff. But what is particularly disturbing is how easily visiting restrictions have been applied and enforced, with no apparent understanding or recognition of the anguish and distress they cause. There are alarming parallels with the way children and young people have been affected by Covid restrictions to protect adults who have a number of options to mitigate individual risk.

One has to laugh about so-called lockdowns. Enforceable lockdowns have largely been confined to care homes, whilst the restrictions which have been labelled as lockdowns are in reality measured protections of the pampered and privileged who are able to work from home with no impact upon their income, and have had to mask up only on short trips out. How many of them have any concept of having to earn a living doing physical work wearing a mask continuously for 12-hour shifts?

Do the public realise that one of the harshest of all care-home restrictions is still in force under the government guidelines dated July 16? All newly-admitted residents who have been discharged from hospital, from an interim care facility or transferred from another care home, should be isolated upon arrival for 14 days within their own room.

Can anyone imagine a more cruel and diabolical way to treat a frail elderly person with advanced dementia?

Are the public aware that after nearly 18 long and agonising months, many care-home residents still have greatly restricted contact with their loved ones? In response to concerted campaigns, the government’s latest published guidance recognises the importance of visits to the mental health and well-being of those residents isolated in care homes. Whilst some such homes have done their best to facilitate visits by relatives, many have not and continue to refuse to implement the official guidance. 

Despite clear instructions that care homes must now enable meaningful visits, many continue to impose blanket policies which allow their residents timed short visits, by appointment, and with only limited slots available. The government refuses to make its guidance legally enforceable and there are no penalties for care homes which refuse to implement it.

There are now robust infection control measures, yet Public Health England and many care-home owners continue to view relatives solely as a source of potential infection, ignoring thevital role they play in the well-being of their loved ones.

Rights For Residents has been one of the most principled and persistent campaigners against the cruel and inhumane visiting policies imposed on care-home residents and their loved ones. On its social media pages are many heartrending posts of individual experiences that are widespread and still occurring.

Key family members are an essential component of care which has been removed by the Covid restrictions. No matter how wonderful care staff are, they cannot provide the type of emotional and other support that can come only from family members. They are the eyes, ears, voices and memories of their loved ones in care homes.

Imagine how distressing it is when your weekly or bi-weekly timed visit concludes with a staff member coming without warning to escort you off the premises, with no opportunity to wind down your chat (so important to minimise the distress to your loved one with dementia).

Many care-home residents are in their final stage of life. The quality of life must be balanced against the quantity. If care-home visiting is not normalised now, when if ever will it be?

Members of the Care Quality Commission, where are you and where have you been? Safely and comfortably working from home, no doubt.

With the benefit of hindsight and not just because of Covid, the following advice is offered to anyone contemplating that terrible decision as to whether to place a powerless (owing to advanced dementia) loved one into a care home. Do everything you can to keep them at home with extra help – many have successfully done so. It is more important than ever, now that care-home managers can so easily impose visiting restrictions at any time.

Unlike the person-centred care system espoused by the CQC, the stark reality is that it is a profit-centred system, and finding a good care home is a lottery. The quality of a home does not become apparent until your loved one is in it, and it becomes problematic to change homes. If the care-home placement decision is inevitable, base the decision upon visiting policies, preferably in the contract and legally enforceable.          

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Stefan Emory
Stefan Emory
Stefan and his wife Ann were together for 35 years before her care home admission in July last year, in one of those rare relationships of total commitment to and happiness with each other, enjoying the most simple pleasures and laughing at the most trifling things.

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