Did you know, legally speaking, temporarily suspending visits to loved ones at Care Homes, Extra Care Housing Sites or Community Living Schemes is fundamentally against a person’s Human Rights? It infringes not only a Right to Family and a Private Life but also our Freedom of Choice. With the majority of care homes closing their doors to visiting loved ones across the UK, our human rights are cast away to protect the people we care for. Morally, it’s the duty of each and every care provider to protect residents, tenants and guests, allowing carers to continue providing top-quality care with residents best interests at heart.
We know the lack of family visits can be very frustrating and isolating for people during this difficult time, but equality we have NHS and Government advice that supersedes in this public health emergency. These temporary regulations aren’t made up, they’ve been put in place to keep older and vulnerable people safe and must be followed.
Of course, we would like to maintain visiting but have to protect the rights of the many, not the few. The virus poses a threat to the people who are highly vulnerable – alongside the dedicated employees continuing to help care for elderly people. We also need to protect the key workers here and allowing continued visitation is dangerous to all parties.
As a nation, we have been told very clearly to stay home, enforcement of this telling isn’t written into any law – people have the capacity to understand the information and people don’t want to put themselves or others at risk. This is where our human rights become secondary and basic common sense comes into play, alongside a hope that people will follow the Government enforcements.
Technology friend or foe?
A court in Northern Ireland ruled just last month that a Care Home needed to make “effective communication” between a family member and one of the home’s residents. But, isn’t this what each and every care provider across the UK is attempting to do? At this time we have seen that technology can be our friend, allowing people with the capacity to maintain a connection, whether this is talking to a loved one via a video call, sending and receiving text messages or daily phone calls. However, there is a thin line between technology being our friend and our foe. Technology and lack of understanding and/or capacity could cause more distress and concern than it does good. Someone living with dementia, for example, could find it extremely difficult to understand why their loved one isn’t visiting, or why their loved one is on a small screen in front of them. Majority of us rely on physical contact within relationships, this is how they flourish, how they grow when thinking about contacting a loved one, think about how they would feel, not how the contact with them would make you feel. Odds are, a person living with dementia isn’t aware of how long ago you visited if you decide technology could hinder relationships or cause confusion there are alternative ways to stay connected. Why not write letters? Something that will be more familiar to the people in care. Ask carers and Key workers to take pictures of your loved one taking part in activities or simply enjoying their time relaxing in their home. Homemakers work extremely hard to ensure family and friends are kept up to date with how loved ones are getting on, all you have to do is ask.
If Care Homes did allow visits, what might this look like?
The clinical and moral response to visiting a loved one during this time is simple, it’s a no. However, we could, hypothetically, consider what this may look like. In short, it would look scary, visitors would have to wear masks, gowns and gloves and would all look unrecognisable to loved ones. All a person will get each visit is communication from the eyes, whereas personable communication and interaction come from the entire face – this could increase stress and confusion not only for the person in care but for the loved one visiting as well. Some people in care may be cognitively able to understand, but others, a person living with dementia, will not.
What about visits through the window?
There’s been a lot of press about loved ones visiting family and friends in care through a window. This isn’t okay, it simply brings a stark realisation of distance that some people can not understand. We can no longer kiss, cuddle and touch our relatives, primarily, with this in mind, and if a loved one is already living with dementia, why would people want to visit loved ones in care through a window? This also leads to journeys being non-essentials and people being out of their homes for a reason the government isn’t deeming as essential travel.
Are there any exceptions?
There is one exception for end of life care visits. The Gold Standards Framework is recognised across all of our Brunelcare homes. Managers are aware of when a resident, tenant or guest may sadly pass, This is when the Centre Manager would make the difficult decision as to when family and friends need to come to say goodbye to someone in care. PPE would have to be worn, hands would need to be washed and the fastest, safest route to get to the loved one would be thoroughly thought out. This will be a much more surreal experience, very controlled and also time-limited.
We have a public health emergency declared please don’t ignore it. Stay home, protect our care homes and stay safe.
Stuart Wright has worked in the health and social care industry for more than 30 years, starting his journey working with people with learning disabilities and behavioural issues before specialising in dementia care. Stuart has implemented and developed the human rights frameworks and standard for people living with dementia. Brunelcare is a Bristol-based charity which has been providing housing, care and support for older people in the South West for nearly 80-years.