West End star calls for action over care home residents ‘dying of loneliness’

People in care homes are still “dying of loneliness”, actress Ruthie Henshall has said, as she called for visiting restrictions to be lifted.

The West End star was one of dozens of campaigners from the Rights for Residents group who gathered outside Downing Street calling for an end to the isolation of residents.

Ms Henshall said some care homes are “making up their own rules” instead of following the Government’s visiting guidance, and that she “cannot bear” hearing the stories of suffering that are still going on.

The Government said it is doing “everything we can” to help providers facilitate safe visits.

She told the PA news agency: “It is still happening in care homes, that people are getting half-hour visits every couple of weeks, they’re still dying of loneliness and isolation and I cannot have this, and this is just devastating to think that, you know, all of this time later, this is still going on.

“They have no voice, no voice, because they’re behind the door.”

Ms Henshall was an essential caregiver for her mother Gloria, a care home resident, who died in May.

She added: “I got to hold her as she died, I got to play her classical music, I got to tell her everything that I wanted to tell her, they let my sisters in as well.

“If I had been robbed of that experience, I don’t know where I would be, because the grief of losing your mother is enormous, but to lose your mother when you have not had the chance to see them, it’s unthinkable.”

Chanting “rights for residents”, and holding up placards with photographs of their loved ones, a crowd of about one hundred demonstrators gathered in Westminster on Thursday.

A small group, including shadow social care minister Liz Kendall, then delivered a petition with more than 267,000 signatures, to Number 10.

The campaigners are calling for visiting restrictions to be lifted in line with freedoms for the rest of society.

They also want the Government to pass Gloria’s law, named after Ms Henshall’s mother, to protect the right of an essential caregiver to continue visiting their loved one even if the care home is in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak.

After helping deliver the petition, Ms Kendall told PA: “There are many lessons to be learned from this pandemic, but most people here were absolutely shocked that they could actually be banned from seeing their loved one.

“They think it’s wrong, I think it’s wrong, so we have to keep pushing for that legal change to happen.”

Current guidance says there is no limit on the number of named visitors a resident can receive, nor how many visits they can receive each day.

All care homes without coronavirus cases should seek to enable indoor visits, and each resident should be able to nominate a loved one to become an essential caregiver, who can visit even if the home is in outbreak, it says.

Visitors should wear protective gear, test negative before the visit and are advised to minimise physical contact.

While the guidance is not underpinned in law, providers are expected to follow it, with breaches investigated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

But it is not mandatory, and campaign groups say many providers are still taking more restrictive measures.

The groups said many are still using screens, restricting the number and duration of visits, and refusing residents the chance to nominate an essential caregiver.

They warn that the “inhumane” visiting policies of the last 18 months have led to a “growing reluctance” to place a loved one into care, which is having a financial impact on the sector.

They want the Government to introduce “clear penalties” for homes that do not follow its guidance.

Diane Mayhew, co-founder of Rights for Residents, said residents are paying thousands of pounds “for the privilege of being held prisoner”.

She said: “Either lifting restrictions in society is safe, and if it is then they should be lifted for everybody in care, or they’re not.

“You cannot have one rule for one group of people and another rule for another.

“Just because they live in care, why should they pay the price for everybody else’s freedom?

“It’s discriminatory, it smacks of inequality, it’s actually an abuse of their human rights, and it absolutely has to stop.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are doing everything we can to support care providers in facilitating visits safely between residents and their friends and family.

“This includes ensuring all residents can nominate an essential care giver, removing limits on named or daily visitors and reducing the period of time visit restrictions apply following an outbreak across the home.

“Our message is clear: all care home residents should be supported to get the care and companionship they need from visitors as this is essential to their health and wellbeing.”