Campaign Update April 2021

Hi, everyone! Tomorrow marks the first month of the Unlock Care Homes Facebook campaign and support group, so wethought it would be good to reflect on the events of the past month, assess the progress of the wider campaign, anddiscuss what steps we need to take to influence change in the weeks and months ahead. 

April 12 -new visiting guidelines

Welcome news came over the weekend with confirmation that Lockdown restrictions will be eased again from the 12April, including restrictions on visits to care homes. However, given the slow pace at which care homes haveimplemented the recommendations published in the Government’s previous visiting guidelines, which came into forceon March 8, it remains to be seen whether the majority providers will comply. Our fear is that many will continue todrag their heels over lifting restrictions and will continue to refuse indoor contact visiting. Far too many homes are stillonly offering screened, pod and window visits. This is unacceptable, as is the insistence that any indoor visits take placein designated rooms and not in relatives’ private rooms. Families have the right to privacy and the insistence that visitstake place under the watchful eye and within earshot of staff, violates that privacy. 

Essential care giver status

Judging from reports here and elsewhere, it also seems that very few providers are granting named relatives Essentialcare Giver status in line with the provisions of the current guidelines when requested to do so, are still refusing to complywith guideline definitions of ‘end of life’, are continuing to interpret the guidelines as they see fit, and are throwing allmanner of obstacles in the paths of families who ask for extended visiting access. 

End of life

Many providers, most particularly the big corporate providers are still refusing to comply with the Governmentguidelines on ‘end-of-life’ visiting access, with many refusing to accept the NHS definition of end-of-life as set out in theguidelines, which is to say within the last year of life. Far too many providers are ruling that EoL means last weeks, or inextreme cases, the last 48 hours. This is unacceptable, as is the reluctance of GPs to class residents as ‘end-of-life’.

Legislation, legislation, legislation 

We all recognise that without legislation to mandate visiting rights, many providers will continue to set their own visiting policies in accordance with their own profit-focused needs rather than those of their residents and their families. We have been lobbying Government ministers and MPs for a year now to bring in legislation, but despite the efforts of Harriet Harman and the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, there is no indication that the Government has any intention of mandating visiting rights. 

Why is the Government so reluctant to mandate visiting rights? 

The most obvious reason is lobbying pressure exerted by the risk-averse care sector itself and hard-nosed government pragmatism. In keeping with its own risk-aversion strategy, which has shifted from “flatten the curve” to what now appears to be “zero Covid”, the Government is keen to reduce the risk to care providers to as near to zero as possible 

Greedy insurance companies 

Already under pressure to indemnify care providers and cover the costs of the excessive insurance premiums charged by greedy insurers, it does not want to be lumbered with the costs of bailing out the sector if things go wrong. And all this to mitigate the tiny risk that relatives -who are fully aware of the risks (now vastly reduced) and are desperate to be reunited with their loved ones – might bring a case against a care provider for allowing Covid into the care home. Yet Covid has already been brought into their homes and, as we families know, it has not been via relatives! It’s staff and service personnel that have brought Covid into the homes, and poor infection control that has allowed it to spread. What litigation claims have ensued from this? None to our knowledge. 

Hard-nosed pragmatism 

One also suspects that the reasons for rejecting calls for legislation also stem from the Government’s fear that it will lead to further demands on Government to provide more state funding to prop up the sector, and in the event that providers decide their businesses are no longer sufficiently profitable, force the Government to play a more central role in social care provision, a role it has no desire to play.

Where does this leave us? 

Given these realities and the fact that there is little appetite among opposition MPs to relax restrictions further, or bring in legislation to mandate visiting rights, we have come to the conclusion that without greater numbers of the public on our side, appeals to MPs and Government ministers, will continue to fall on deaf ears. 

Obstacles to gaining wider public support 

Sadly, there is still a long way to go before we can gain sufficient public support for our demand for legislation. The majority of the public still believe Hancock’s claim that the ‘protective ring’ his Government has “thrown around the vulnerable” in care homes really is protecting them. Few are aware of the impacts of isolation on the physical and mental well-being of our loved ones. Few understand the harm and suffering that ‘protective ring’ has inflicted on the elderly and vulnerable, few are aware of the dramatic rise in excess deaths in care homes over the past year which were not attributable to Covid-19 but to other treatable illnesses that went undetected due to medical neglect. Fewer still will be aware of the 52% increase in deaths among care home residents suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia. 

Government hype, media spin 

Mainstream media is not helping. When the issue of visiting is covered by mainstream media outlets, it is invariably to promote the Government’s own positive hype around the relaxing of restrictions when, as we know, the reality for the majority of families is far from positive. There is little media interrogation of the ‘facts’ presented by the Government, little scrutiny of the small print in the guidelines, and precious little investigative journalism into care home visiting realities on the ground. Mainstream media also has its own agenda: bigging up the threat of Covid-19 to the point we are terrified of leaving the house, whilst simultaneously glossing over the devastating impact on society generally, and subjecting us to daily diet of Lockdown ‘feel good’ stories. 

Call to action – help us to help each other 

There is still much work to be done in bringing the public on board and over the next few weeks we will be sharing some of our ideas as to how we might best achieve this. However, we are a tiny team and cannot achieve this alone. We need your active support. Watch this space for updates and announcements on the initiatives we have planned and, most importantly, please get involved!