It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I offer sincere thanks to Joy Morrissey for securing this vital debate.
It is clear that many MPs have been contacted by worried—often terrified—constituents whose parents, children, relatives or friends are in care homes. I for one have felt utterly heartbroken listening to some of them describing the fear and isolation that they know their loved ones are experiencing, and I, too, have an example—one of many. The mother of my constituent Steph is in a care home. Steph is one of five children and for a long time they have each spent hours on end with their mother. They lovingly held her hands, combed her hair, remembered stories together and reminisced about the past. They were not just visiting their mum; they were providing essential care.
Eight months on from the arrival of coronavirus, Steph still cannot touch her mum. People like her all over the country cannot hug their mothers or fathers, children, siblings or friends. They still cannot hold their hands to comfort or reassure them. All that they can do is watch their often rapid decline, for just half an hour at a time, from a distance—perhaps from a structure in a garden, or sometimes through a closed window, or maybe a screen if they are lucky. Like Steph’s mum those vulnerable people are struggling to understand why their children and families cannot be with them. An entire lifetime of love and closeness is ripped away from them and torn apart. For every person affected, every single passing day is a precious day lost.
Now, as winter approaches and, predictably, we are in the second wave, there are still no guidelines in place to protect loved ones from dying not only in loneliness and isolation, but from it. The Government like to talk up their ambition in many other areas. We have all heard of Operation Moonshot, Nightingale hospitals and world-beating apps, but there has been barely a whisper about allowing family carers to be with their loved ones. The announcement of a trial period was welcome, but for many people it created an even greater desperation, because they could not see any end in sight for the enforced separation.
Last week I co-ordinated a group of 40 MPs from across the House who wrote to the Secretary of State with a real plan. It would allow a designated family or friend carer to have the same key worker status as someone paid to work in a care home. They would have the same access to tests and PPE, and the same access to their loved ones. A number of groups have been calling for various measures of that kind for some time. They include the National Care Forum, Age UK, One Dementia Voice and the British Association of Social Workers. We are pleased to give them and the people they represent our full backing and a strong voice today.
I want to be clear: care workers have been magnificent throughout the pandemic, but the care that our families give is no less important for health and wellbeing. The cruel 30-minute time limit on visits must be scrapped, and care homes must have protection from legal action if covid is introduced to a home by a designated visitor. Those are the same protections that have been agreed for the NHS. Time is running out. With every day that passes, isolation, loneliness and deterioration grow for many of the most vulnerable in society, and friends and family carers experience more anguish. They pass another day of separation from their loved ones as they slip away faster, and more painfully, than they should.
It is often said that the true test of a country is how it treats its most vulnerable. For as long as the Government hold out and do not implement the plan I have described, they are failing that test, and failing the thousands of families who experience anguish every single precious day.