Covid: Campaigners plan to launch legal action over care home visits

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

A daughter who fears the next time she "holds" her mother "will be on her death bed", has spoken to ITV News about the "heartbreaking" situation of not being able to visit loved ones in care homes due to Covid-19 fears.

Jacqui Steel said she has been unable to visit her mum, Emily, who has Alzheimer's, since the summer and she fears the next visit may not be until her mother is at the end of her life.

As concerns over an inability to visit loved ones continue, ITV News understands campaigners plan to launch legal action this week against the government to try and get care homes to allow more visits and visits according to individual needs of care home residents.

It comes as Care Minister Helen Whately confirmed that a pilot scheme will be launched "shortly" which will see relatives of care home residents treated as key workers to enable safe visits.

However, there are fears from some that changes may come to late.

Ms Steel told how she feels she has let her mother down "because I can't do for her what she did for me...

"She's a child, she's lost the ability to be an adult, she's a child.

"When I was a child she looked after us and I can't do that for her, I can't return the favour.

"It's frustrating. It's heartbreaking."

Ms Whately told the joint Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee she wants to enable visiting "but it must be safe".

Campaigners have been calling for a designated relative to be given key worker status and regularly tested to make visits safer, amid concerns for isolated residents.

Ms Whately did not provide any details, or give an indication of when the pilot would start, but said: "What I can say is that we are moving forward on it and we are going to pilot it."

She added: “Visiting is incredibly important for residents and their families in care homes, I really want us to enable visiting but it must be safe.”

An inability to visit their loved ones has been a major concern for family and friends of care home residents amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A woman whose husband is in such accommodation told ITV News of the "increasingly difficult" visits she has had to endure while seeing her husband, who suffers from dementia.

Debbie Williams can only see her husband through a glass window and he struggles with speaking to her on video calls.

"That sort of banging against the glass is a very harsh reminder of the fact I cannot help him," she said.

Ms Williams added: "My daughters haven't seen him for, I think, 32 weeks and they adore him."

"We've tried FaceTime, we've tried Zoom calls, and he just cannot understand the technology, he can't engage with it at all."

"This is as good as it going to get until that guidance from the government which is sort of dictating what the home can do."

Ms Williams also said that the care home had tried out Covid testing for her so that she could see her husband - she was getting tested and had a few contact visits with her husband but these visits then stopped due to the test results taking five days to come back.

Vic Rayner, executive director at the National Care Forum, said: "The government must act quickly to move us to a place where this pilot comes into play, and we move to a situation across the country where the default assumption is that meaningful and regular visiting is a clear part of every resident’s care.

"For many, the decisions that are taken about visiting are life-changing, and potentially life-limiting. None of this is easy – but nothing that mattered ever was."

The Alzheimer’s Society said it was "delighted" to hear of the pilot but that "we need the 'when' and the 'where', plus plans for national rollout".

Chief executive Kate Lee said: "Keeping coronavirus out of care homes has to remain an absolute priority, so these key family carers must get the regular testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to visit safely."