An MPs’ committee has heard how lockdown has had a “devastating” impact on the mental health of care home residents and their families.
Judy Downey, chair of the Relatives and Residents Association (R&RA) told the all-party group on coronavirus that while care homes were doing their best to keep residents and relatives in touch their efforts were being hampered by “confusing” guidance on care home visits.
Judy said: “I think for a lot of people, they’re thinking they must preserve life at all costs, without actually valuing what makes like worth living.
“What makes life worth living for most people? It’s interaction with the people they love, and doing things they like, and all of that has gone. And it’s not necessarily because there’s COVID present.
“Sometimes there was, and sometimes there might be, but it’s people living in a kind of hideous limbo. Some people are saying to us that their relative would rather die than carry on living like this.”
R&RA director, Helen Wildbore, said residents were suffering from a lack of contact with their relatives and interaction within their home.
“People go into care not just to have their physical needs met, but also their social needs,” Helen said. “And if you take away that social support network, homes become very different places.
“Sadly, many of the callers to our helpline have been telling us that the current situation in care homes is now very much like a prison, with such restricted visiting, residents unable to leave the grounds of the home, and limited interactions with other residents and staff.”
Helen called for a “better balance between protecting life and protecting wellbeing” in care settings.
The government released its long-awaited guidance on care home visits at the end of July but it was criticised by some care leaders.
Professor Martin Green OBE, CEO of Care England, said the guidance failed to consider the need for residents to be taken on outdoor visits, while the R&RA said the directions lacked “clarity and leadership”.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told CHP: “We realise this is a very difficult time for residents who understandably want to have more face-to-face contact with their loved ones.
“But our priority must be to protect residents and staff by preventing infections in care homes. And this means visits must be always be carried out safely and that in some cases contact will need to be restricted.”