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The clamour that cannot be ignored

MPs, charities, doctors and families back Mail crusade to let relatives visit lonely loved ones in care homes

CHARITIES, doctors, MPs and desperate families last night united behind the Mail’s campaign to ensure care home residents do not spend Christmas alone.

They implored ministers to relax stringent restrictions which have forbidden vulnerable residents from hugging or holding hands with their loved ones for the past eight months.

The Mail yesterday launched a major campaign calling for the Government to prioritise the urgent use of mass testing in care homes to ensure residents can have meaningful personal visits.

Most can see their loved ones only behind ‘prison-style’ screens, or through windows, while some homes allow only drive-through visits or no visits at all.

Last night, MPs from across the political spectrum joined charities and campaigners in backing our manifesto for change in time for the Christmas holidays. The campaign was even praised in a parliamentary debate as MPs told of the agony their constituents were being put through by the Government’s care home lockdown.

But although care minister Helen Whately said she wanted families to be able to ‘hold hands and hug again’, she refused to commit to a timeframe. And there was still no commitment on testing from the Department of Health, beyond a pledge to begin a pilot scheme.

As the Mail campaign was inundated with support:

■ Medical experts said the ban on visits was costing lives, with residents ‘giving up on life’ and losing their ability to eat, drink and speak;

■ The Alzheimer’s Society said the restrictions on visitors were ‘losing lives, not saving them’;

■ A string of families came forward to share distressing stories - including a man forced to wait nine months to see his elderly mother in a Birmingham care home.

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Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary and chairman of the health committee, said: ‘The Mail are absolutely right to shine a light on the agony facing families cruelly separated from loved ones in care homes. If we can test the whole city of Liverpool, we can surely find enough tests to allow care homes to introduce regular family member visits in time for Christmas.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said care home residents were being ‘failed and forgotten’, adding: ‘Unless the Government listens to these demands, vulnerable residents will be consigned to a bleak and lonely Christmas.’ Lib Dems leader Sir Ed Davey said: ‘This is such an important campaign. Ministers must understand they are accountable for the care home fiasco and that they must put it right before Christmas.’

The Mail’s five-point manifesto calls for all residents to have at least one relative or friend designated as a ‘key visitor’, who receive routine weekly testing. We also want rapid tests to be rolled out as a priority to care homes, and an end to the postcode lottery for visits.

Baroness Joan Bakewell, the former older people’s tsar, said: ‘The toll of Covid is more than physical illness. Isolation in care homes makes people depressed, feeling deserted, without love or hugs. It amounts to cruelty.’

The campaign has also been backed by a string of leading charities, including Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society and Rights for Residents, a campaign group calling for an end to the visitor restrictions.

Yesterday a debate was held in Parliament highlighting the devastating consequences of the pandemic on people with dementia.

Former Cabinet minister Esther McVey said: ‘I want to commend the Daily Mail. An elderly constituent said to me: “I want to live before I die. And at the moment with all these confusing lockdown rules, I can’t.” ’

The Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘We understand the pain and consequences of loved ones being separated from one another, and we must get the balance right between reuniting families and ensuring care staff and residents are kept safe and well, while preventing the transmission of Covid-19.’