Support groups say dozens of nursing homes are still denying people access to their elderly relatives for 20 months after the pandemic started.
Although ministers have urged nursing homes to allow relatives to visit, groups like the Relatives & Residents Association and Unlock Care Homes say many elderly residents are still unable to see.
Since March families have been able to appoint an “Essential Caregiver” (EKG) who can regularly look after a relative in a nursing home. Around 70% of residents in older nursing homes have dementia, and research by John’s Campaign shows that relatives are often better at interpreting their behavior and providing comfort.
However, care providers can reject applications for EKG status. Diane Pickup of the Unlock Care Homes group, which had a number of disputes with her mother’s nursing home, said she was “flatly turned away.”
In September, Rights for Residents group, led by West End actress Ruthie Henshall, carried a petition signed by 250,000 people on Downing Street demanding that all those in care have a legal right to an essential caregiver, but so far the ministers did not act. A survey of members of Rights for Residents found that nearly a quarter of EKG status had been denied.
Figures from the Department of Health and Welfare show that 7.4% of nursing homes – more than 1,000 – don’t allow visits, although in most of those cases it’s a temporary restriction due to a suspected Covid outbreak, according to the Care Quality Commission.
Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said the numbers on nursing home visits are worrying because too many things are still untapped.
“Government statistics show that around 92% of nursing homes allow visits. But the question asked is so broad that a nursing home could tick yes even if it denies access to key nurses or families only allow half an hour a week. We’re really concerned that no one is monitoring this. We do not know how many people have been denied essential caregiver status. We don’t know how many people still only have 30 minutes a week.
“This is an attack on the human rights of older people and it is devastating to them and their families.
“Calls to our helpline show that everyone else in the rest of the country has moved on and those in need of care have been left behind – that is discrimination. They still live with restrictions on who to see while everyone else can travel the world and go to nightclubs.
“People who call us for help are desperate over the injustice. They feel like they are not being offered hope. You ask us how long it will go on? “
Amanda Hunter of Unlock Care Homes said, “There is a lot of evidence that people don’t get visits at all. They are told they can have a 30 minute slot.
But if that is booked by someone else, good luck. Often times, it’s one family member a week.
“The whole idea that you have to book a slot to see your own family member is just abhorrent. That can’t happen anymore. “
Jane Smith visited her mother, Rita Hookway, three hours a day before the lockdowns began. But relations with the home deteriorated during the pandemic restrictions.
“Mother was fired just before Christmas,” she said.
Smith was denied EKG status and has complained about her mother’s care since her mother’s death in May.
Last month, the Parliamentary Joint Human Rights Committee wrote to the Quality of Care Commission asking why it hadn’t responded to several recommendations made in May to monitor how carers enable residents to receive visitors.
Harriet Harman, chair of the committee, said in the letter, “It is clear that many nursing homes have very restrictive visiting rules that may be contrary to government orders … and that family members are not allowed to see loved ones without one appropriate individual risk assessment is carried out. “
On Friday, the CQC replied that it had investigated 51 suspected cases of blanket visiting bans, but only had to take action against two nurses.
Peter Wyman, the chairman of the CQC, wrote: “We do not have the authority to compel nursing homes under the laws given to us by parliament to inform us of changes in their visiting status. Likewise, under our legislation, we are not empowered to require nursing homes to report their “live visit frequency data”, nor are we empowered to take action against nursing homes that do not indicate changes in their visiting status. we’ll message you.”