Organisations representing both care providers and users, including Healthwatch England, the National Care Forum and Care England, signed the joint letter highlighting the severe, detrimental impact isolation from family and friends can have on people living in care and the key role local leaders play in protecting the rights of people living in care. 

The letter seeks to address barriers that prevent people living in care from receiving visitors when local health teams impose blanket approaches to reducing infection risks during the Covid-19 pandemic. The letter calls on local health and care teams to fulfil their legal duties by ensuring restrictions on contact are proportionate. 

The letter also provides local health and care teams with information resources to promote ‘essential caregivers’ to ensure every resident can benefit from this role so vital to their wellbeing. Nominated essential caregivers (ECGs) can visit care homes even during periods of Covid-19 outbreak to offer companionship or help with care needs.    

The joint action is an initiative of the charity the Relatives & Residents Association, campaign group Rights for Residents and Dr Caroline Emmer De Albuquerque Green, a researcher based in the ARC’s social care theme, who is an expert on the human rights of older people living in care settings.  

The pandemic has shown that spending time with family and friends is not a matter of luxury – it is a matter of life and death. This is why the right to privacy and family life is a fundamental human right, written down in international and national law.

Caroline Green’s College London

Caroline continued: "Care home residents have experienced human rights violations since the beginning of the pandemic because of policies around visiting. We have evidence backed by academic research that highlights the devastating effects of cutting people off from their loved ones and denying them the right to social participation on their mental and physical health. Making sure that every care home resident is assigned an ECG is an important practical step in protecting and respecting residents’ fundamental human right in care settings and to address current injustices faced by care home residents, their families and care professionals.”

Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said:

Our helpline hears daily about the devastating impact isolation is having on people living in care. Lifelong bonds have been broken, relationships damaged, people with dementia think they’ve been abandoned. Untold damage to health and wellbeing is being caused by the response to the pandemic, in the name of keeping people safe.

Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association

Helen continued: "For people living in care away from their families, contact with them becomes all the more important, yet they have faced far more stringent restrictions than the rest of the country. For older people in the final stages of life, time is precious. They want to live, not merely to exist. Local authorities, public health teams and care providers must work together with residents and their families to ensure rights are protected before it is too late for too many more.” 

Jenny Morrison, co-founder of Rights for Residents, said: “While we fully understand the need to limit footfall during an outbreak, this should not extend to those visits deemed essential. Given the present staff to resident ratio, the help of essential caregivers (ECGs) is vital in order for residents to be cared for safely. Removing this essential source of support is increasing pressure on exhausted care staff, at a time of extreme staff shortages and sickness levels.

ECGs are not just ‘visitors’ - they share a unique personal history and relationship with their loved one. The care they provide simply cannot be replicated by care staff, no matter how wonderful or dedicated they are. The impact of loneliness and isolation has far outweighed the impact of Covid, on care home residents, in the later part of the pandemic. We need to ensure that measures put in place to protect residents are proportionate to the current situation.”

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