'I've lost so much time' Why care homes are still restricting visits to see loved ones

"I don't know how much time I've got with her... I've lost so much time".

Lawrence Jones from Pontypridd is desperate to make up for the last 18 months.

His mother Sarah, is 83 years old, and has vascular dementia.

Lawrence, like thousands of families during the pandemic, he was unable to spend time with her in her care home during the height of the Covid-19 crisis. Visits to care homes were strictly off limits and staff tried to keep the virus away from its elderly and vulnerable residents.

But, since restrictions were lifted across Wales Lawrence told ITV News he would like to see his mother more.

“I’ve lost so much time with the one person that means a lot to me,” he said. 

“It’s very hard when you see everyone enjoying themselves on the weekends down the beach and I can’t see my mother...because obviously I don’t know how much time I’ve got with her because she’s dipping with dementia."

Sarah has vascular dementia Credit: Lawrence Jones

"We’re not asking for the world, we just want to spend some time with our loved ones.”

Before the pandemic, many care and nursing homes operated an almost "open door policy" where relatives and loved ones could visit freely. 

But the coronavirus outbreak meant care providers had to enforce strict visiting policies, usually guided by the Welsh Government. 

In early August when Wales went into Alert Level Zero, the government changed the guidelines and suggested that care and nursing homes should remove limits around face coverings, the number of people who can visit and where these can take place within the care home.

The relaxation of the rules was caveated with the suggestion that providers should carry out their own risk assessments. 

Although many homes across Wales do now allow indoor visits and visits in residents’ rooms, others are extremely cautious to welcome back families. Outdoor and ‘pod’ visits remain in regular use.

Underneath all of this is a looming problem: insurance.

Many private care or nursing homes across Wales cannot get public liability insurance that covers them for Covid-related claims. The fear of a lawsuit is keeping this cautious cloud over the care sector, because a legal claim could mean financial ruin. 

"We are not protected and that is a big concern for providers throughout the whole of Wales," Becci Roberts, Registered Manager of Ely Court Care Home in Cardiff said. 

"Their businesses would not be able to survive a claim and they don't want to take that risk...so we cannot open and we cannot run our care homes allowing families in as we used to do it. It’s got to be measured, it’s got to be proportionate, it's got to be risk assessed and to a certain extent - it's got to be controlled.”

Lawrence said he understands the reasons for the restrictions and told ITV News the care staff have been "exceptional" - but admitted that he “would love” more time with his mum.

Lawrence said he would like to some "fair play" across the board Credit: Lawrence Jones

"When you see scenes on television with the football matches and everyone going back to their lives...you can do whatever you want to do."

"It just feels that the loved ones in care homes, in that environment across Wales, not just in mum’s care home, are having a raw deal. There should be some fair play across the board."

The Deputy Minister for Social Services Julie Morgan told ITV News the Welsh Government is in talks with insurers about the situation

The Deputy Minister for Social Services, Julie Morgan MS, confirmed that the Welsh Government is in talks with other governments and insurers about how to manage the situation following calls for it to underwrite care home insurance in a similar way the UK Government protected live events this summer.

A Welsh Government spokesperson added, “We recognise care homes are facing rising premium costs and difficulty in getting any level of cover for Covid. This is a UK-wide issue, and we are working with the other UK governments to find solutions.

“The significant efforts of the adult social care sector in responding to the pandemic has been costly. To help with these costs we have provided over £185m to the adult social care sector through the Local Government Hardship Fund and Local Health Boards so far, and will provide further financial support to the end of this financial year.”

The Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services told ITV News that she would encourage anyone who feels they cannot see their loved one in the way they would like, to get in touch with the Welsh Government. 

The Association of British Insurers says, “We recognise the insurance market for care homes is challenging and that obtaining public liability insurance which covers communicable disease, including Covid-related claims, may become harder given the increased risk of a claim needing to be made. Insurance remains available for care homes provided they are well managed and risks are adequately controlled. Insurers and brokers are working with care homes on managing risks as well as possible, as this will increase their chances of getting cover that meets their needs.”