Column: Care homes have to care for relatives - not just residents.
A full year after we went into lockdown, and we still haven’t got the balance right when it comes to protecting elderly people in care homes, but still ensuring precious contact with loved ones.
For too many within the sector, the former means still limiting, if not excluding, the latter.
It’s wrong and it cannot be allowed to continue. We need a complete re-think.
The toll the pandemic had on care homes was life changing and devastating - for staff and for families.
No-one can give back the time lost for visits, hugs and precious moments together. The mourning will last for some time to come.
The promised public inquiry into the pandemic will almost certainly include care homes, and how our political leaders got it so badly wrong in those first frightening months.
But that will take months, probably longer, to deliver.
There will be hand wringing, and more earnest apologies when, what families want - right now - is simply a level playing field to find out exactly where they stand.
There seems bewildering confusion over what is, and what isn’t allowed within the current regulations for access and visits.
It should be simple. Government spells out what is permitted, and care home managers and owners implement them.
But, the problem with guidelines is that they are open to interpretation.
So, we have widely conflicting experiences which are often down to individual perceptions of how much access a relative is allowed.
And that ‘interpretation’ - however well meaning - is often muddled and misguided, and leaves relatives with that feeling of not knowing which way to turn.
What should have happened was a clear statement from the top - that’s whoever replaces the unimpressive Jeane Freeman as Health Minister - to all home owners and senior managers in charge of care homes spelling out exactly how visits should be managed.
No-one should have to stand their ground when it comes to getting access and seeing loved ones - the last thing they want is conflict with the carers, who they get to know personally and trust, but they are put into that difficult position because of the lack of consistency.
Care homes need to take a step back and re-think their approach.
Post-pandemic they have to understand that a big part of their role has to be about supporting families.
If that means a weekly phone call to say how their partner or dad is getting on, and to listen to the relative’s worries, then do it.
And do it consistently.
Let them know if they need more clothes, different bedding or there are any issues with their room - don’t leave it up to the family to keep raising small, but important, matters.
That approach has to be ingrained into the day to day business of running a home. No exceptions.
It takes time, but costs nothing - and can make a huge difference.
We can achieve more than any inquiry ever will by focussing on the simple things - a welcome cuppa on arrival, a brief ‘how are you doing’ chat on arrival, and making relatives feel welcome once again rather than a burden to be managed in and out the door.
They have been locked out for over a year.
Time lost forever.