The husband of a dying woman was restricted to weekly visits and wearing full PPE as hospitals continue to enforce Covid restrictions.
Paul Laxton, 68, said he expected his wife of almost 19 years, Leonore, 72, would be discharged after a few days when she suffered a fall.
But Lennie, as she was known to her loved ones, who had motor neurone disease, remained in hospital for a month before she died, during which time Mr Laxton was able to visit her only a handful of times and was forced to wear full PPE.
“It’s just the sheer inhumanity of a dying woman lying in a bed, all those hours a day, with no friendly faces, no conversation. It’s a shocking, lonely way to die and the only saving grace is that I was there at the end,” Mr Laxton told The Telegraph.
It comes as a charity has called for hospital visiting restrictions to be relaxed, in line with other Covid-19 limits across the country.
NHS England guidance states that trusts can use their “discretion” to define local visiting arrangements, but advises that a “compassionate approach” should be taken when balancing loved ones’ right to visit dying family members and managing Covid infection risk.
Visits denied for six days
Mrs Laxton was first admitted to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary on May 14 after the fall. Her husband, a former prison governor, was neither allowed in the ambulance with her nor permitted to visit her until six days later.
The following day, she was transferred to Calderdale Royal Hospital in Halifax to a respiratory unit, but Mr Laxton was told he must wait 14 days until he could visit.
“And that was the point at which I said, ‘Well, that’s the same as a convicted paedophile’,” he said.
He was offered a virtual visit two days later, which he described as “half an hour of sheer unadulterated misery”.
“There was no nurse there to help her hold the tablet. So consequently, she kept dropping it, kept going out of view and what little voice she had it wasn’t going into the microphone,” he said.
“There I am, watching this on the screen, seeing my wife horribly distressed and there was nothing I could do. That was so cruel.”
She was later transferred back to Huddersfield to have a feeding tube inserted, but was admitted to intensive care due to complications. When she returned to Calderdale Royal Hospital, Mr Laxton’s 14-day limit had ended and he was permitted a visit wearing a normal surgical mask.
However, he was informed he had to wait seven days until he could visit again. This was due to his wife being on a respiratory ward and therefore being at higher risk.
“To which my response was, ‘Well, I’ve been double jabbed, my wife’s been double jabbed’,” he said. “It didn’t make any sense to me.”
‘I thought I was in Porton Down’
The following day, Mrs Laxton’s health deteriorated and she was placed on a ventilator. Her husband was called in for an emergency visit, but was told he had to wear a “hazmat suit” with a “bowl around my head” which “noisily circulated air”, he said.
“I thought I was in Porton Down, not Calderdale Royal. It made communication absolutely impossible,” he said.
Four days later, Mr Laxton was granted daily visits with his wife with no explanation, during which he said he refused to wear the “ridiculous” PPE.
The hospital relented and allowed him to wear a lower level PPE, including an airtight mask, a gown and a visor.
Mrs Laxton died on June 15, minutes after her husband had arrived to visit her.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “As Covid restrictions are currently being relaxed in most walks of life, it seems reasonable for those that apply to hospital visiting to follow a similar path.
“The first step should be an urgent review to establish how much hospital visiting, and on what terms, can now safely be allowed.
“This review needs to be informed by an understanding of just how much it means to many people in hospital, and their loved ones, to spend time together and, conversely, how agonising it can be if they are forcibly kept apart.”
Helen Barker, chief operating officer of the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Visiting continues to be permitted for patients receiving end of life care and while we absolutely understand the importance of visiting and impact this has had, we must also keep measures in place as infections in the community remain high to keep all our patients safe.”
NHS England was also approached for comment.