National charity, The Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA), has called on Parliament to ensure essential visitors are granted access to care homes during lockdown.
The call by R&RA director Helen Wildbore came as she gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Helen said: “In month eleven of visiting restrictions in care homes across England, our helpline continues to hear of the devastating impact isolation is having on residents, putting their human rights at risk. Many families feel bereft and abandoned, that the systems in place to protect and safeguard rights have let them down. Too many of our helpline callers are afraid to speak out and use their legal rights for fear of reprisals, including eviction. We need to address that power imbalance.
“As cases rise across England, protecting care users and staff from the virus is of upmost importance, but almost a year of isolation has created another risk to the well-being of older people living in care. Care homes need to manage both the risk to well-being from isolation and the risk posed by the virus via individual assessments. Essential visitors – providing crucial practical or emotional support – need to be granted safe access, to ensure residents’ rights are respected. Such visitors should be subject to the same safety precautions as staff (testing, appropriate PPE, access to vaccines) so they are seen as a vital part of the care team.”
The committee heard how the rights of older people in care are at risk with residents afraid of not being able to see their families and suffering increased mental distress as they approach the end of their lives, and being denied their right of liberty as they are unable to leave their care homes.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “In the face of a new variant of the virus and rising cases we have acted to protect those most at risk in care homes while ensuring visits can go ahead safely.
“We have updated guidance, increased staff testing and put in place arrangements, including substantial screens and visiting pods for the safety of staff, residents and visitors.
“Close contact indoor visits even when supported by testing cannot currently take place other than in exceptional circumstances, such as end of life.”