Vulnerable people living in care homes are 'dying of loneliness,' as they're deprived from seeing families due to lockdown, while delays in testing have exposed 'huge staff shortages,' in the sector, it has been claimed.
Baroness Ros Altmann, a former Minister of State for pensions, welcomed Matt Hancock's announcement yesterday that care home residents would receive free PPE during the winter to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The Health Secretary announced a £500million 'infection control fund' will help pay workers full wages when they are self-isolating and ensure carers work in only one care home, thereby reducing the risk of spreading the virus.
Mr Hancock unveiled his winter action plan, which will also include guidance on whether care homes should restrict visits from family members.
Baroness Altmann warned restrictions could put lives at risk.
Baroness Ros Altmann has warned residents in care homes are 'dying of loneliness,' as they're kept apart from loved ones
Speaking on Good Morning Britain today, she said: 'Some people in care homes are more likely to die because of loneliness from lockdown and that is a real problem.
'Many of those people were unable to see their relatives and were desperately, desperately in need of their family visits and the family themselves needed to see the older people.
'One has to wonder whether it's right for the Government to say they can't go and see their loved ones.
'Some people died on their own, other people in care homes aren't necessarily vulnerable, so I just wonder if depriving people of their "visitation rights" as it were, is the best way to go.
'I hope it won't be too draconian that therefore people in care homes aren't just left totally isolated from their families and loved ones if they desperately need to see them.'
Matt Hancock unveiled a £500million fund for care homes yesterday, but warned care homes could restrict visits from family members
Speaking about yesterday's announcement, Baroness Altman said: 'I think it's great that we are offering free PPE and that we are making extra money available to the care home sector, it has been underfunded for decades and the crisis in social care is getting worse.
'The Government is starting to wake up to that, partly because the pandemic has exposed just how neglected the sector has been and how cut off some of it has been from the health service.
'What is also important though is that not everybody in a care home is elderly and vulnerable.
If you try and lump all care homes together, you'll be potentially disadvantaging or damaging, for example, people with autistic children living in care homes, adult children in their 20s and 30s who've really needed family visits and the family needs to see them.
'So these blanket bans or blanket measures that suggest all care homes should ban visits in vulnerable areas needs to be nuanced.
'The Government must also make sure that we get the testing right, because we've got staff going in and out of care homes because there's a huge staff shortage across the sector and if they don't know whether they have the Covid or not then you will have a problem of spreading it inadvertently.
Boris Johnson said earlier this week: 'It's an incredibly difficult thing, but we are going to have to place some restrictions on people, visitors being able to go into care homes'
'Also staff within care homes, if they can't get a test or are waiting for the result of a test that are taking a long time, they won't be able to come into work and therefore there'll be staff shortages in the homes.'
On Wednesday, Boris Johnson said relatives may face restrictions, telling The Sun: 'Be in no doubt we're going to do absolutely all we can to stop the spread in care homes. And I'm afraid it's an incredibly difficult thing, but we are going to have to place some restrictions on people, visitors being able to go into care homes.'
Mr Hancock said: 'We are entering a critical phase in our fight against coronavirus with winter on the horizon.
'Our priority over the next six months is to make sure we protect those most vulnerable receiving care and our incredibly hard-working workforce by limiting the spread of the virus and preventing a second spike.
'This winter plan gives providers the certainty they need when it comes to PPE and provides additional support to help care homes to limit the movement of staff, stop the spread of coronavirus and save lives.
'We will be monitoring the implementation of this carefully and will be swift in our actions to protect residents and colleagues across the country.'
Age UK's director Caroline Abrahams said it was important the plan achieved an 'appropriate balance' between ensuring infection control and allowing residents to keep in contact with loved ones.
She said: 'It is possible to have safe visiting in care homes, but this requires a rigorous approach from providers and ready access to enough PPE and testing.
'There will always be a risk that a visitor unintentionally brings the infection into a care home but this risk can be managed and it has to be considered alongside the dire consequences for care home residents, those with dementia especially, of being cut off from loved ones for long periods of time.
'There is no doubt that some older people to whom this is happening are dying of sadness as a result.'