Care homes need practical help, not costly gimmicks

I really missed the veterans this Remembrance Sunday. The pandemic has robbed us all but none more so than elderly people with precious years left. It’s been especially cruel for those in care homes. Face-to-face visits were banned during the first lockdown. This time the government’s offering guidance which says visitors can meet residents in secure areas, separated by floor-to-ceiling screens like those in prisons.

The Health Minister says she knows restrictions have been incredibly painful and that’s why she’s trying to enable visiting but make sure homes are safe. She hasn’t commented on the cost but her opposite number says most homes won’t be able to afford it, meaning thousands will continue to be prevented from seeing loved ones.

This government’s already in the dock over thousands sent from hospitals to care homes in February/March. A report by Amnesty International accuses it of inexplicable and disastrous decisions resulting in more than 18,000 deaths in our care homes. Amnesty is calling for an immediate public inquiry. They report residents being denied GP and other NHS services and care home managers being pressured to accept patients who hadn’t been tested.

No one wants a repeat of past blunders but the Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Society says current guidance misses the impact that isolation has on dementia sufferers. We shouldn’t confuse security with safety; prison-style screens won’t be much use for those who are bed-bound, and why maintain restrictions on physical contact when we know staff can interact normally in the community and are only usually tested once per week, while having regular physical contact with residents?

I know from my contact with care homes, in my own constituency, how hard they’re working to look after people and how much they want to facilitate safe visits. They need practical help, not expensive gimmicks.

Experts argue that the key is regular testing for residents, staff and visitors and a fully functional track and trace system. The Health Secretary has just announced 10,000 lateral flow tests for Birmingham but we’ll need much more if he really wants to end the isolation and the suffering.

Steve McCabe MP weekly column for Birmingham Mail

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