Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:03 pm on 11th November 2020.

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Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West 6:03 pm, 11th November 2020

Amid all the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic to public health, to the economy and to social wellbeing, arguably the biggest impact has been on residents of care homes and their families. Care home residents, among the most vulnerable members of our community, have been disproportionately impacted by covid-19. According to the Office for National Statistics, up to 30 October about 28% of covid-related deaths recorded in England and Wales were in care homes. It is therefore fully understandable that care home providers should be cautious about visits to their homes by family members. However, it should also be remembered that many care home residents are living with dementia. Being deprived of visits causes disorientation and distress to them and, equally, to their families.

My constituent Mrs Kathy Barham of Ruthin has described to me the impact that visiting restrictions are having on her family. Her mother, Mrs Mavis Addison, lives in a care home in Wallasey. She is a widow and has lived all her life in Wallasey. Until 2016, she lived independently, but she was then diagnosed with dementia and moved into a residential care home. That did not mean that she stopped enjoying life. Every weekend, Mrs Barham would travel from Ruthin to visit her, take her out for afternoon tea and meet friends and family. Mrs Addison’s life was good. She was happy, and she was living well with dementia.

Visits from family members are extremely important to those living with dementia. In fact, the Government’s own guidance acknowledges that. However, since the lockdown was imposed some eight months ago, Mrs Addison has not seen her daughter or any other member of her family. Distressingly, Mrs Barham now says that her mother is simply giving up because of the enforced lack of contact with her closest relatives, and that is surely the case for many thousands of other people who are living with dementia around our country. It is a sad, distressing and, I suggest, inhumane state of affairs.

The campaign group Rights for Residents, of which Mrs Barham is a member, is calling for an end to the current restrictions on visits to care home residents. Hospitals are managing to provide safe visits, and the Government could, frankly, do more to facilitate equally safe visits to care homes. But the sad truth is that, frequently, the families of care home residents are allowed to visit their loved ones only if they have become so ill that they are receiving end of life care. Indeed, after the easing of restrictions in early summer, care home residents became the only group in our society who continued to endure prolonged enforced separation from their families.

Rights for Residents is calling on the Government to pursue a more humane and nuanced approach to the treatment of care home residents. It asks for the Government to produce guidelines that encourage care providers to find safe ways to visit, rather than ones that in many cases are interpreted so as to impose blanket bans on contact with families. It suggests that key worker status should be granted to relatives, as was suggested by Carla Lockhart, with access to the same testing regime as care home staff to facilitate the resumption of regular indoor visits. It also asks the Government to consider ways of developing an indemnity regime for care providers against legal action should the virus be brought into a care home—it is frequently the fear of litigation that inhibits visits to elderly people in care homes—and to develop updated comprehensive guidance that focuses on protecting vulnerable people against the appalling prospect of simply dying of loneliness.

Covid-19 is a dreadful disease, and it has inflicted illness and death on large numbers of our fellow citizens. It has, however, also brought mental anguish and distress to thousands of the most vulnerable and their families. With winter fast approaching, it is time for the Government to put in place a new visiting regime that gives proper consideration to the needs of care home residents and their families, and they could do worse than listen to the recommendations of Rights for Residents.