Distraught families told they could hug loved ones in care homes at Christmas fear a ‘betrayal’ by officials.
A string of councils and major care home groups are refusing to follow new national rules stating that everyone should get meaningful visits from their families.
Some people have already been told they can’t see relatives in care over the festive period – not even to wave at them through a window.
With less than two weeks until Christmas, Boris Johnson’s pledge that all care home residents will be able to hug loved ones by then hangs in the balance.
An audit by the Mail found four major care home chains and nine councils were refusing to use rapid tests for visitors, which establish whether they can be admitted to premises, due to ‘unfounded’ concerns about their accuracy.
Diane Mayhew, of the campaign group Rights for Residents, said: ‘Families have already been through nine months of hell and now they face a further betrayal from councils and care homes.’ The charity Age UK told the Government, councils and care home bosses: ‘Pull out the stops to get in-person visiting up and running.’
Sarah Jackson with her mother Mary Garbe. Sarah’s mother went into a BUPA care home in July – and that was the last time she saw her face-to-face.
Sylvia Haycock, 86 at Whiteley Village care home gets a visit from her daughter Sharon Maycock-Prime, 54 from Staines after her daughter has a rapid result Covid-19 test
Last week, following a Daily Mail campaign, the Government promised that millions of the ‘lateral flow tests’ would be rolled out to care homes by the end of next week so residents and families could be reunited. It said visitors who tested negative for Covid would be allowed to hold loved-ones for the first time in months.
Many reunions have taken place since then, but charities warn ‘progress is stalling’, with tens of thousands of residents ‘held hostage’ by care homes and councils.
Some homes have suggested hugging visitors will not be possible until everybody has been vaccinated, which may not be until March.
Those refusing to allow physical contact include major providers such as Bupa, MHA, Barchester Care and Anchor Hanover, which between them look after tens of thousands of residents.
The Mail has seen letters sent from care homes to relatives defending their decision not to use the tests and, in some cases, insisting that visitors must talk to elderly care home residents through prison-style Perspex screens.
Many raise concerns about the accuracy of lateral flow tests, which give results within 30 minutes but are less accurate than the standard polymerise chain reaction (PCR) tests.
However, a major study by Oxford University and Public Health England last month concluded lateral flow tests were sufficiently accurate.
Last night, campaigners accused care homes of being overly risk-averse, with the Alzheimer’s Society warning: ‘There is no point “saving” people from coronavirus if they’re dying from loneliness.’
Miss Mayhew added: ‘Care providers are finding every obstacle they can, with the help of local authorities, to prevent visits. There is no point sending out millions of these tests to care homes if they are then going to refuse to use them. The tests are deemed to be safe.
‘It’s time for the Government to intervene and confirm this publicly so care homes can no longer wriggle out of providing visits.
‘The clock is ticking. Many people in care homes are nearing the end of their lives. They don’t have months, weeks or days to wait.’
Some care homes that want to allow indoor visits have had their hands tied by local authorities, which have ordered them not to use the tests. The Daily Mail has also identified nine councils that have imposed restrictions or expressed concerns about the use of rapid Covid tests for visitors.
This includes Liverpool City Council, which is forcing relatives to take three tests on the day of a planned visit, as well as insisting: ‘There can be no hugging.’
In Norfolk, where infection rates are among the lowest in the country, the county council said only outdoor or virtual visits should be encouraged, and insisted most ‘care providers are not in a position to start lateral flow testing’.
Last night, charities said that the tests must be rolled out immediately, ‘no ifs, no buts’, warning that the lack of contact is leading to residents ‘giving up on life’.
Caroline Abrahams, from Age UK, said: ‘We’ve heard that some care homes are suggesting they want to delay visiting until everyone has been vaccinated, but this would mean another lengthy delay. Literally every day counts for many of these older people.
‘Far too many older people and their families are stuck in limbo, agonising over whether they’ll ever see each other again.’
Fiona Carragher, of the Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘Giving families the chance to look into each other’s eyes, hold hands and hug again must be done before it’s too late.’
Last night, charities said that the tests must be rolled out immediately, ‘no ifs, no buts’
Rebecca Parsons sees her grandmother Marjorie Titheridge for the first time since February
Age UK said some care homes claimed they could not allow visits as a result of insurance issues. In a poll of 2,732 people, it found 70 per cent had not been able to visit or see their loved-ones since the pandemic began. A respondent said: ‘I feel as though I have locked my parents away and thrown the key away.’
Judy Downey, of the Relatives and Residents Association, said most calls to its helpline were about restricted visits, adding: ‘Government guidance seems to give people hope, then take it away. The confusion is compounded by the chaos of the tests.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘Extensive testing has shown lateral flow devices are suitable for use in care homes. Care home residents in all tiers will have the chance to see relatives before Christmas.
‘Homes across the country are arranging visits now.’
The companies and councils resisting the rules
MHA: The UK’s largest charity care provider, with 90 care homes and 5,000 residents, is not allowing hugs, hand-holding or close-contact visits. It told relatives it had ‘real concerns about… lateral flow tests’.
Barchester Healthcare: The group, with 14,500 residents in 250 homes, said: ‘The risk of introducing this deadly virus by a visitor who has wrongly tested negative is too great for the test to be used routinely.’
BUPA: No close contact between visitors and loved ones in its 130 homes, even with the tests. Instead, it is creating visiting rooms with floor-to-ceiling screens.
Avery Healthcare: Told families of residents at its 56 homes it would not use lateral flow tests over concerns about their accuracy.
Sheffield: Said the test had an ‘unacceptably high risk’ of being wrong and should not be used until the Government proved it was safe.
Newcastle: A spokesman said: ‘These tests are not being used to facilitate visits yet.’
East Riding of Yorkshire: Relatives must wait for the vaccine.