Agonising Lock Out – Founding members Amanda Hunter & Jane Smith on Care Home Castle Keeps

On Monday 22 February, 11 months after ‘temporary’ visiting restrictions were introduced in care home settings to limit the spread of Covid-19, Boris Johnson announced the Government’s roadmap out of Lockdown. It was the news hundreds of thousands of care home residents and battle-weary families had been waiting to hear.

Would the roadmap herald the end of care home visiting bans?

Would the Government finally announce that family visiting rights were to be enshrined in law?
Would this herald the end of enforced isolation and the catastrophic consequences it had engendered? 
Would we now be able to see, hug and care for our loved ones?

As sons, daughters, mother, fathers, wives, husbands, we so desperately hoped so.
And yet, when the announcement finally came Monday evening, our hearts sank.

Govt Roadmap to Nowhere

That eagerly awaited roadmap, we learned, was not going to lead us anywhere near the destination we had hoped for, and which family campaigners had spent an entire year tirelessly endeavouring to reach. 
No, it would not open the gates of the care homes that have been effectively imprisoning our loved ones for the past year.
No, it would not end the isolation that has seen thousands of our relatives die prematurely from loneliness, despair, and emotional starvation. No, there would be no legislation to bring recalcitrant care providers to heel and force them to allow families back in.
No; all the  Government was prepared to offer our locked-up relatives and us, their locked-out families, were crumbs.

Eleven months of life-eroding isolation, eleven months of heartbreak and suffering, eleven sleepless, tireless months fighting for justice, and what do we get? The ‘promise’ of a once weekly, thirty-minute visit for ONE named visitor from the 8th of March.

Not only is it nowhere near the destination we had hoped for; it is not even remotely in the vicinity. Leaving aside the total inadequacy of thirty minutes, and the divisive ‘one visitor only’ proviso,  it’s a very empty promise at best.

Legalise Access to Loved Ones

Without legislation to enforce the new ‘guidance’, why would those providers that have been refusing to comply with the Government’s previous guidance on visiting, suddenly snap their heels and heed this latest guidance?

While there are exemplary care providers out there that have gone out of their way and beyond the call of duty to facilitate family visits – we refer here to care managers such as Adam Purnell, Dawn Bunter and Donna Pierpoint, to name a few – it is a sad and damning indictment on the sector as a whole that so few have taken steps to introduce testing to facilitate safe-visiting.

It can be done, it must be done, but from hard-learned experience we know that without legislation it will not be done any time soon. 

Some of the large providers have already issued statements claiming the guidance is too risky, that it is too soon to open their gates and allow families back in. They bemoan the cost, the extra work, the fear of litigation lest visiting leads to Covid-19 outbreaks and possibly deaths. It is an entirely disingenuous position to take.

Leaving aside the fact that the barriers they have erected to keep family carers out have failed to keep Covid-19 out, that over 22,000 of their residents have died as a result of the virus being brought in by staff and service personnel, it is a gross distortion of reality to suggest that families pose a heightened risk to residents. Not when the Government has provided copious supplies of testing kits to providers, not when all residents have now received their first  vaccine, not when mass vaccination and testing of the population is already underway, when PPE kits have been supplied to care homes which family visitors and family carers can use.

Patience Exhausted

The excuses are wearing gossamer thin, as is our patience.  We have waited far too long – almost an entire year now – for this Government to take necessary action. We have patiently waited for Boris Johnson, Helen Whately and Matt Hancock to come to their senses and recognize the need for legislation to enshrine residents’ visiting rights and our status as essential family carers in law. And yet, eleven months on, and despite the noble and tenacious efforts of residents’ rights groups, our shared  lobbying has brought little progress. 

Yes, a few influential MPs and celebrities have listened, yes, they have acted to bring pressure to bear on the Government, but without concerted public pressure to force our reluctant Government to act, fundamental change will remain a distant hope and destination. Our relatives cannot wait any longer, thousands have died already from the impact of isolation on their mental and physical well-being.

If we are to save those still with us, those still clinging on to life and the hope of being reunited with their families, we must act now. We cannot wait a moment longer.

Isolation is Killing Relatives – Help Us

Isolation is killing our relatives, many of whom are already in their last months, possibly weeks of life. If you have a relative in a care home, or even if you don’t, but feel as incensed as we do that our most vulnerable citizens are suffering and dying before their time, please help us by joining, supporting  and contributing to our campaign.

We are a relatively small grassroots action group but are determined to punch above our weight and force care providers and Government to heed our demands.  Help us to bring a swift end to the inhumanity of care home visiting restrictions by pledging your time and support today. Our loved ones and your fellow citizens are depending on you. Please don’t let them down.   For details of our campaign aims and planned actions, please click here: