It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. This debate matters so much to so many people. Like colleagues, I have been touched by correspondence and have taken to heart so many of the difficult personal circumstances that my constituents have been through in recent months. I congratulate Joy Morrissey on securing the debate, because I do not think that the issue has had enough attention in the House, especially with so much changing guidance over recent months.
We know the headline coronavirus figures because they are so stark: we are reaching 50,000 deaths in this country. Families are grieving loved ones, and people across the country are losing their livelihoods and facing hardship through no fault of their own. Let us remember that almost 30,000 of those deaths were excess care home deaths in the first wave of the pandemic, when residents of care homes were so tragically failed.
Behind the numbers, there are countless personal stories: families forced apart; special moments with loved ones missed; and the grief of losing family members. Visits to care homes and to health settings are just one of those sacrifices. Visits play a vital role—not just for families, but for ensuring the proper running of care homes and the protection of their residents. The first set of guidance, published on
“Family and friends should be advised not to visit care homes, except next of kin in exceptional situations such as end of life”.
In the summer, when restrictions were eased slightly, further guidance was issued for limited visits. The most recent and up-to-date guidance puts the ball in the court of care homes providers, families and local professionals to work together to ensure that visits are covid secure.
In reality, care home visits are a lottery. Relatives tell me that it is still proving difficult for them to secure consistent visits. That lottery means that one home in my constituency facilitates window and garden visits and arranges Facetime and Zoom calls. Another home had facilitated window visits when they were allowed, but found that residents were left upset and agitated as they did not understand why they could not see their family as normal, and Facetime and Zoom calls often led to more confusion and upset. That home now has a designated area so family members can visit during the winter, and has created an action plan to put that in place.
I want to share the words of one constituent, who has kept in touch with me throughout recent months as she has tried to visit her mother in a care home. She wrote to me this week to say:
“I was allowed in the care home on Thursday to see her, poor mum, its heartbreaking see her wither away to nothing. I was not allowed to hug or touch her, she kept getting up from the chair to come to me and I had to walk away and around the table, she was following me. Gut wrenching, all she wanted was her daughter, to feel safe, feel reassured and be with me.”
Of course, people have so many questions that need answering to ensure safe visits. As it stands, some visits are happening, but the practicalities and ability of some care homes means that visits are just not possible and too many families are still being left out. As colleagues will know, Liverpool is now piloting mass testing and I welcome the fact that Liverpool City Council is exploring how we can use the Mast lateral flow testing to support more direct visiting. I encourage the Minister to touch on that point.
Nothing can replace being able to visit a loved one in person, and nothing is more important to the people suffering the heartache of being separated from them week after week, month after month. I implore the Minister to do everything possible—I am sure she will—to ease that pain for my constituents and the millions across the country who have been affected for too long. There is no excuse for the inhumane treatment of care home residents in this country. Care homes need funding, PPE, testing and expert advice to set up safe visiting.