‘All I want for Christmas is my mum back in my life’ - Sheffield families share heartbreak of care home visiting during Coronavirus pandemic

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Families have shared their heartbreaking experiences of care home visiting during the Covid-19 pandemic and said a government pilot to enable more meaningful contact is “too little, too late”.

Hilary Sayer, from Sheffield, and her close family spent time with her mum Norma, who has Alzheimer’s disease, every day for five years since her father passed away, including when she went into a care home this January.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But due to strict coronavirus restrictions she has been unable to visit her in the home for more than eight months.

Hilary Sayer with her mother NormaHilary Sayer with her mother Norma
Hilary Sayer with her mother Norma

Replacements such as video calls and brief 15 minute visits once a week, where visitors have to stand outside Norma’s window wearing a face mask, have caused distress as she struggles to understand why she cannot be with her family in person.

Hilary said: “Not only can mum not hear me, she cannot even watch my lips. It’s barbaric, inhumane and like visiting at the zoo.

“It is so upsetting knowing she is so close but yet I am not allowed to see her. I know care homes have to be protected against Covid but what it is doing to residents’ mental health is devastating.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“My mum’s dementia has deteriorated so much, she is now grinding her teeth through the anxiety of not having any meaningful contact with her family.

Susan Poskitt's daughter, SophieSusan Poskitt's daughter, Sophie
Susan Poskitt's daughter, Sophie

“She carries two dolls with her at all times that she kisses, feeds and looks after. I am guessing they give her the comfort that we are not allowed to. I am broken.

“She loved to reminisce and we often talked about the memories of cherished time we shared as a family. These things are the threads that keep mum connected to the real world. The carers are doing the best job they can and although I am grateful they cannot give her what her family can.”

The Alzheimer’s Society reported an unexpected increase of 5,000 more dementia deaths in care homes during the first lockdown, not related to coronavirus, that it said could be due to prolonged social isolation and disruption to care.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A survey by the society also showed 80 per cent of people saw their loved one’s condition worsen before their eyes under new restrictive measures.

The society, along with families and some politicians, has called for an end to this painful separation by allowing at least one friend or family member per resident to be given access to regular testing and personal protective equipment.

Susan Poskitt, who lives in Rotherham, said her daughter Sophie, aged 31, is in a care home in Swallownest.

She said: “It’s a good care home but we aren’t allowed to see her as she is autistic with learning difficulties and doesn’t understand social distancing. We haven’t seen her for eight long months and it is heartbreaking.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“She is non-verbal too so no-one can explain why we aren’t visiting her.

“We miss her so much and just want testing so we can go in safety.

“If students can be tested so they can go home for Christmas, why can’t families who haven’t seen their loved ones for eight months?”

A national campaign group called Rights for Residents has been calling on the government to act for months and now has nearly 200,000 signatures on its petition.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The government started a pilot to reunite people by testing visitors across 20 homes in the south with the aim of rolling it out across the country by Christmas.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “I know how heartbreaking restricting visits to care homes has been, not only for residents, many of whom will feel disorientated and confused by the situation, but also their loved ones who aren’t able to simply hug each other to support the in this difficult time.

“Thanks to the expanding testing capacity we have in place we can now begin to trial a new way to allow safer visits to take place and prevent the spread of Covid-19. I must stress this is only possible if the public takes the right actions now to bring the transmission rate under control while national restrictions are in place.”

But many feel they have already waited long enough.

Susan said: “It doesn’t need a pilot scheme it needs doing now as it is cruel and inhumane for every one of us. The effect it is having on everyone’s mental health is immeasurable.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Hilary added: “The government has had months to put safe indoor visiting in place, balancing the risk of Covid against the risk of residents dying from loneliness.

“The average life in a care home is two years and for a lot of residents this will be their last Christmas.

“The pilot scheme to trial testing one visitor to allow them into care homes is too little, too late – we have waited months.

“We need testing putting in place now in every care home as a matter of urgency, testing is being used in some homes already and has proved safe. I feel so let down by the empty words both Matt Hancock and Helen Whatley speak, they have in my opinion let down every resident in every care home in the country.

“All I want for Christmas is my mum back in my life.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.