Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has been urged to act to prevent a “winter of hell” for care home residents and their families by allowing more access.
Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon made the plea, as she revealed one 92-year-old woman had been driven to attempt suicide following coronavirus restrictions being put in place across Scotland’s care homes.
Ms Freeman said she hoped a “better balance” could be struck, adding that she hoped to update the families of those living in homes “very shortly” on this.
She also insisted there were “very sound” reasons for a report on the transfer of patients from hospital to care homes with the virus in the initial months of the pandemic being delayed.
Questioned on why publication of the work had been put back to October, Ms Freeman said Public Health Scotland wanted to be sure the data “is robust and is analytically sound”.
He comments came after Ms Lennon noted it was now about 200 days since most care homes went into lockdown.
Telling Holyrood that people were resorting to “hugging through plastic sheets” in homes, the Labour MSP said: “We must have a strategy to make sure that care givers and their loved ones can be together.
“We must avoid a winter of hell for families of loved ones, who have yes, survived the pandemic so far but are grieving in their own ways.”
Ms Lennon continued: “Right now thousands of people are in effect sealed off from their family care givers due to the current guidelines.
“One woman yesterday emailed me to tell me about her mum, who lives in a care home. She is frail, elderly and does not have dementia, so even though she is fully aware of going on she doesn’t fully understand why she is being deprived of family contact.
“Her mother’s mental health deteriorated badly and in June her mum, who is 92, tried to take her own life.”
Ms Lennon insisted access for family caregivers into care homes must be a priority, as she said: “Of course we need to do everything possible to stop the virus from getting into care homes but there is a hidden catastrophe in terms of mental health and we must do something about that too.”
Ms Freeman said while care homes had been allowing some visits since early in July, the current arrangements were not “normal” with physical distancing required and staff in personal protective equipment (PPE).
But speaking days after relatives of care home residents staged a protest outside the Scottish Parliament, she added: “I am acutely conscious that what is probably missed most is time and touch – time with your loved one to talk, to have a cup of tea, to catch up on the news, and to touch, to hold your loved ones hand and to give them a hug.”
The Health Secretary told Holyrood that work was being carried out which should “reach a conclusion very shortly” on what could be done to open up visiting, allowing designated visitors to come more often and for longer.
Consideration is also being given to allowing care home residents to have a named “back up visitor” who could come when their designated visitor is not available.
“I do want us to reach a better balance in the measures we take,” she said, adding that she hoped to update relatives “very shortly” on this.
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