A woman desperate to see her mother face-to-face for the first time since March has been offered a Christmas Day Zoom call instead as councils and care home managers were today accused of acting like ‘dictators’ by refusing to let Covid-tested visitors in.
The woman from southern England has been in contact with pressure group Rights for Residents who say families desperate to see elderly and vulnerable loved-ones are being 'inhumanely' blocked from comforting them in person.
The Government announced on Tuesday the rapid result lateral flow tests were now available to allow visiting to take place – but some care homes are already refusing to implement it.
And all ten councils in Greater Manchester are advising people against using these tests in care homes, days after Sheffield council said the same.
Jenny Morrison, the founder of Rights for Residents, which has 4,500 members, told MailOnline that one member has already been refused a visit by her mother's care home - and offered a Zoom call on Christmas Day instead.
'Our member called the care home excited like the rest of us about the Government's proposals - only to be told "you can have a Zoom call on Christmas Day and watch her eat her lunch". She's heartbroken', Ms Morrison said.
She added: ''It's turning into a postcode lottery. This is happening all over the country now - to suggest this is a humane approach is staggering. Some care homes are saying basically, if you don't like it you can move your relative somewhere else'.
Many familiies have not been able to properly visit loved ones in care homes since March - and a promise of testing by the Government is not being followed by all providers
Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said there was ‘very considerable concern’ about the use of lateral flow tests, which give results in 30 minutes
Manchester yesterday became the latest major city to signal that it will advise care homes not to follow the Government’s care home visits guidelines. In a blow to thousands of families.
Mayor Andy Burnham said that there was ‘very considerable concern’ about the use of lateral flow tests, which give a result in 30 minutes.
Ms Morrison said: ‘Local decision makers and care home managers have become mini dictators, making up their own rules regardless of scientific evidence and government instruction to the contrary'.
She said: 'Our members have been told that many care homes won't open no matter what the Government has to say. What's happening is simply inhumane and it's leaving families devastated and broken as we are powerless to help our loved ones. It seems even the Prime Minister has no influence over care home managers who blatantly state that the guidelines are advisory and can't be enforced'.
She added: 'The 400,000 residents living in care homes it looks likely that they will be the only people in society denied this opportunity. It's already been nine months since they had any meaningful contact with their families and for many this will be their last Christmas - spent alone! It's a national disgrace'.
It came as care homes fear they could be sued for human rights breaches if they do not allow Christmas visits.
Sarah Hatchett, Head of Care at King Charles Court nursing home oversees a rapid Covid-19 test in mid-November in Cornwall, where a pilot found that the system could work
Care Forum Wales (CFW), which represents nearly 500 providers, said that some homes may decide to stop visits or close altogether rather than risk paying out ‘ruinous damages’.
Despite Government advice that care home visits should go ahead, some local councils have suggested that they will not support the roll out of a testing regime.
Ruth Langsford admits her family's ‘guilt’ over putting her elderly mother Joan in care home
Back in March, Ruth shared a sweet video of her kissing her mum Joan through a window as she wished her a Happy Mother's Day
Ruth Langsford revealed her guilt over putting her mother Joan in a care home during a discussion on This Morning on Friday.
The 60-year-old host has previously revealed she has been talking to her mother through a window using a walkie talkie.
Ruth has been unable to hug her due to care home rules amid the coronavirus pandemic.
She discussed her heartache while giving advice to a caller in a similar position alongside husband Eamonn Holmes, also 60, and agony aunt Deidre.
Martin Green, of Care England, called for the Government to issue firmer guidance saying the current rules are mired in ‘ambiguity’ that allows local authorities to make their own decisions.
He said that care homes fear they could face legal action if visits go ahead and there is a subsequent Covid outbreak, as well as if they block visits altogether.
He said: ‘If you take the Government’s advice then you might find yourself in hot water later because of that.
‘If you take the local authority’s advice and you can’t reinstate visiting then you might be in potential breach of the Human Rights Act.
‘In a way, you will be damned if you and damned if you don’t.’
Guidelines published by the Department for Health this week after a Daily Mail campaign for Christmas visits to go ahead orders care homes to consider equalities and human rights legislation.
Nick Freeman, a criminal defence lawyer, said: ‘The Mail has highlighted the humanitarian aspect of why care home visits must go ahead, but there is also a strong legal argument.
‘Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights covers the right to a family life. This encompasses all things that you expect a family to do - see sick parents, terminally ill relatives, or sit down for Christmas as a family.’
Care bosses claim that they are terrified of the prospect of legal action linked to the pandemic, which has already seen insurance premiums rocket by up to 880 per cent.
Others say changes to premiums have meant they are not covered for payouts linked to coronavirus.
In a letter to relatives of residents this week, a care home in County Durham said that it would not carry out tests to enable visits due to fears of legal action.
It said: ‘This is a highly litigious matter and significant litigation risk to Care Providers, and an arrangement or role that we would not entertain.’
Nicola Richards, director of Palms Row Health Care in Sheffield, said that it would not offer visits because of concerns about the rapid tests.
She said: ‘Once again the national government has made an announcement before taking the challenges of the front line into account.’
Officials in Manchester said they were concerned that homes had received tests as part of a batch totalling one million sent out by the Government without any advice on their safe use.
Bolton Council yesterday said that it was ‘seeking clarity from the Government’ amid a number of concerns about how care home testing will take place.
Conservative councillor Andy Morgan, who runs a care home, said: ‘Only when we are confident that the appropriate guidance and safety measures are in place will we announce when it is appropriate to allow close contact visiting.’
Liverpool Council became the first to disregard the advice earlier this week, launching a significantly more restrictive visiting regime.
Officials in Sheffield have also raised concerns about the effectiveness of the tests, while other cities said they are weighing up whether or not to advise against visits.
Rochdale Borough Council has strongly advised care homes in the area against using the lateral flow tests over ‘serious concerns’ about their accuracy.
Chief executive Steve Rumbelow said the tests appeared to show ‘an unacceptably high risk of missing the virus’.
Critics point to research showing the tests have an overall sensitivity of just over 75 per cent. A review by Public Health England (PHE) and the University of Oxford insisting they are ‘accurate and reliable’.
Diane Mayhew, from campaign group Rights for Residents, said: ‘Councils are wielding this power over our loved ones and we feel like they are holding them hostage.
‘It beggars belief, especially as we were so excited on Tuesday [when the visiting guidance was published].’
Care home residents are expected to begin receiving Covid jabs within days after all.
Officials have devised a way to split the Pfizer vaccine into small batches suitable for distribution to them.
Initial plans to make vulnerable social care residents the first to get the jab were derailed when regulators put a limit on the number of times doses could be moved.
The vaccine contains a fragile strand of RNA – the genetic material that carries messages between cells – sheathed in a droplet of fat.
Pictured: Alexandra Glenister is visiting her mum Jo Shepherd at Castle Grove Care Home in Bampton, Tiverton
That makes it very unstable and means it needs to be stored at a super-cold -70C (-94F) to ensure it does not break down before it gets to patients.
The logistics of transporting and storing a vaccine at such temperatures means the initial doses will be given out at one of 50 major hospitals across England.
FIRST HUG WAS WONDERFUL
By TESSA CUNNINGHAM FOR THE DAILY MAIL
One of the hardest adjustments for Cosette Wood, 79, since suffering a stroke in July has been the deprivation of her daughter’s loving arms around her.
So the moment when Rachel Byles, 54, was able to reach out and embrace her yesterday was magical for both of them. ‘That first hug was simply wonderful,’ says Mrs Wood.
‘Mum has rallied magnificently but nevertheless she has seemed so frail after her stroke,’ says Mrs Byles, a retired businesswoman and mother-of-three from Somerset. ‘She was so independent but she is now in a wheelchair and has trouble talking. Not to be able to hug her has been tough. All I wanted was to hold her and comfort her.’
Mrs Wood, who lost her husband, a farmer, in 2014, suffered a severe stroke in the garden of her home near Tiverton, Devon. She spent nine weeks in hospital and coronavirus restrictions made it hard for Mrs Byles and her sister Belinda, 51, to spend time with her.
‘We were allowed into the ward but we couldn’t even hold Mum’s hand,’ says Mrs Byles. ‘We didn’t know what her future was.’
After moving into a respite home, Mrs Wood arrived at Castle Grove six weeks ago.
‘To finally put my arms around her after all we have been through is indescribable,’ says Mrs Byles. ‘Sadly I lost my husband Robert last year. Since his death I guess Mum and I have leant on each other. So not to be able to offer her the most basic human comfort has been particularly hard.’
It also meant earlier plans to make care home residents the first to get the jab had to be put on hold.
But health officials have now drawn up a new method to ensure it can get to the most vulnerable.
Subject to approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), officials expect to be able to start rolling it out to care homes within a few days, and by Christmas at the latest.
The key problem hinges on the way the vaccine is supplied by Pfizer – in large freezer cases capable of storing up to 5,000 doses at the required temperature. Each container holds trays, roughly the size of a pizza box, containing 975 doses.
When on Wednesday the MHRA issued authorisation for the vaccine to be used, it stipulated that each box could be moved and opened only a limited number of times before the vaccines were used.
And it said that until a detailed distribution plan is drawn up, the trays should not be split before the vaccines were ready to be used, making transporting them to care homes all but impossible.
Professor Liam Smeeth of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – a non-executive director of the MHRA – said yesterday: ‘The logistics are going to have to be based around what we can achieve.’
Asked whether that meant care homes were unlikely to part of the first wave of the vaccine roll-out, he told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Yes, I think you’re right.’
But Government sources said last night that the issue is set to be resolved.
They said the planning process for how the batches would be safely split had already been drawn up but could not be finalised until the vaccine actually began arriving last night.
It will involve splitting the trays and repackaging them into smaller parcels, which will then be transported in refrigerated bags supplied to each vaccination team.
Once out of the freezer containers, there will be a limit of about five days in which to use them.
While the plan is subject to approval by the MHRA, the process is expected to be completed in days.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said that although care home residents were at the top of the prioritisation list, the process was designed to be flexible.
He asked families to be patient – but said officials were working hard to resolve the issue.
‘We have got an exciting vaccine, we have got others that are in the pipeline and we fully expect the programme and our priority list to be rolled out in the very near future,’ he said.
‘The very short-term practical difficulties of getting this out from a storage point of view should not let us all lose sight of the fact that these care home residents and their staff are our utmost priority – and it may well be possible to get the care home staff to be immunised within a local hospital setting.’
The National Care Forum called for guarantees that, if challenges delivering the Pfizer jab are not overcome, the other vaccines near to approval will be able to be delivered on site into care homes.
‘The timescale for assurance of the alternative vaccines must be clearly laid out,’ a spokesman said.
‘It’s all very well to ask care homes to be patient but having outlined just how life changing this could be, the patience of residents, relatives and providers shouldn’t be expected to stretch too far.’
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, suggested that the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine – which does not require the same super-cold storage – may come to the rescue within days.
The MHRA is currently assessing the Oxford jab, with a decision expected next week.
Professor Van-Tam told BBC Breakfast that, if officials can, they ‘absolutely will’ get the Pfizer jab into care homes but the Oxford vaccine would be easier to deploy.
Asked whether it will be approved before Christmas, he said: ‘I’m hopeful that will happen, but it’s out of my hands. We go at the speed of the science.’