Calls for law to give families access to see loved ones in care homes

Before the pandemic, Penny Hutchinson, or one of her siblings, would visit their mum Yvonne every day at her care home in Halifax. 

Then, for around five months they could only see her through as screen.  Yvonne has dementia and Penny says she could see her condition deteriorate.

"Her mobility reduced. Certainly her vocabulary reduced. One of the things we lost is that when we call mum mum now she doesn't really respond so we call her Yvonne and she does."

Penny is a nominated Essential Care Giver (ECG). A role the government says should allow her to visit even if the home has a covid outbreak. 

But it's guidance, not law, and she fears her visits could be prevented in the future.

"Even as essential care giver there's still a risk for me that care homes can decide actually we've got an outbreak, or even the local public health team and say, well actually no you can't go in so even though I've been given that status there's nothing in law that protects that."

Carl Stevenson is the manager at Yvonne's care home and says an ECG is not just vital for residents, but also staff."We need ECG visits because when we've got staff off, when we can't give the emotional support that we would normally be able to do if we had enough staff and we weren't dealing with a lockdown then you know having the ECG visits is the most important thing."

On Thursday, a 300,000 signature petition will be handed in to government from Rights for Residents, which aims to make the role of Essential Care Giver legally enforceable.

Halifax MP Holly Lynch says she hopes the government will consider its requests.

Judith King from the Alzheimers Society says losing contact with family can be very isolating for dementia patients.

"It's very difficult if you have dementia to perhaps understand what's happening through restrictions, why they're happening and to lose that contact and that you know to be isolated is really a contributory factor in people declining."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said it was supporting care providers to facilitate safe visits between residents and their families. 

"This includes ensuring all residents can nominate an essential care giver, removing limits on named or daily visitors and reducing the period of time visit restrictions apply following an outbreak across the home."

With winter pressures on the horizon, families like Yvonne's are hoping the government will act on their petition, enabling them to provide essential care to those who need it most.