Column: We need fresh approach to care home access in 2021

Ten months into this pandemic and we still seem to be struggling to create a cohesive action plan which protects care home residents, but allows loved ones precious access to them.

Wednesday, 30th December 2020, 12:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 30th December 2020, 2:20 pm

It’s an incredibly tough balancing act, but one that is vital to the mental health and wellbeing of both.

Neither can carry on indefinitely into 2021 on either side of a window, meetings cancelled at short notice as policy changes, or layered in clothing to get through an outdoor visit on a bitingly cold winter day.

The cost to both, so far, has been horrendous.

Pic: John Devlin

I cannot begin to imagine the impact on any care home which has endured dreadful losses throughout 2020, and the pressure which comes with dealing daily with families desperate for access - so, maybe we need to change the approach on 2021.

What started out as a temporary separation at the start of lockdown has now become the norm for too many.

From the outside looking in, the entire sector appears paralysed with fear.

It cannot allow the virus to get in, so, everyone else must stay out.

I get it - but that stark approach is either rigidly enforced or riddled with inconsistencies, and it also comes with a human cost.

There are people in their twilight years who haven’t been hugged for ten long, lonely months, who have been locked in small rooms waiting for time to pass to provide a safe return. Time they simply don’t have.

My only first hand experience of this was on a sunny August afternoon watching my stepdad’s 90th birthday taking place on the other side of a giant fence.

There has to be a better way.

Is it really beyond the ability of every care home to create an outdoor area which has heating, which protects old folk from a biting cold wind, which can be sanitised easily, and is more than just functional while also being a safe haven for all concerned?

We created nightingale hospitals within weeks, but we can’t knock up a simple, but welcoming, homely, facility that lets both care home residents and families have precious time together - and preferably one without a clock silently ticking in the background.

Why haven’t home owners - both private and council - been told to do that as a matter urgency?

It has taken the Care Home Relatives Group to finally get on to the table issues that ought to have been understood and dealt with, months ago.

Their co-ordinated efforts have got the message across that relatives cannot not be viewed solely as sources of potential infection - but their hopes for improvements rest entirely with the political leaders who have done so little this far.

I hope they keep the pressure up, and our politicians, local and national, don’t just support their bid for ‘‘essential carer’ status by law, but work with them to bring about meaningful, safe changes in 2021 that finally roll back the blanket of fear crippling every care home.

We can surely give relatives hope while also ensuring everyone stays safe.

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