The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, said he is deeply concerned about possible breaches of human rights as a result of older people in care homes still being denied visits from families for many months.
He has expressed his concern that many of these residents are still unable to receive safe face-to-face visits with family members despite the roll out of the vaccination programme, regular testing and other precautions having been put in place.
‘“My office has received many requests for assistance in recent weeks from families who are desperate to visit their relatives with many describing how they feel their relative is being ‘held hostage’ or being ‘treated like a prisoner’
Many families have contacted the Commissioner seeking his help for care home providers to comply with the Department of Health guidance to create opportunities for safe visiting of care home residents.
Mr Lynch said: “I have been working with authorities to try to get care homes to facilitate visits in a limited and safe way, so that families who have been separated for months can meet again.
“My office has received many requests for assistance in recent weeks from families who are desperate to visit their relatives with many describing how they feel their relative is being ‘held hostage’ or being ‘treated like a prisoner’.
“Fortunately, in most cases, we have been able to work with care home providers to get these situations resolved. However, I remain concerned that the cases we are dealing with could be the tip of the iceberg and that many other families and residents may still be unfairly denied this important contact.
“I have sought assurances from authorities for many weeks that this issue is being tackled but I remain unconvinced that they know the true scale of this problem or how hard it is hitting residents and families. Given that many of these older people will be in the latter stages of their lives, it is critical that where visiting can be done safely, that it is facilitated immediately.
“Despite the Minister stating clearly that care home visits need to happen where possible, I have become aware in recent weeks of some providers still maintaining blanket bans on visiting or only allowing window visits despite having no Covid-19 outbreak in a home. This is not good enough and needs to change fast.”
Residents’ campaigner Julieann McNally from Care Home Advice and Support NI (CHASNI) said: “We are pleased to read the statement from the Commissioner for Older People today. We agree that there is still far too many care homes still not implementing the care partners scheme or allowing safe visiting.
“The detrimental impact on older people not having those connections is truly shocking and saddens me. We also are hearing from families on a daily basis where this is the case.”
Ms McNally added: “We have all the protections in place to facilitate safe face-to-face visiting including PPE, IPC measures, vaccinations, testing of visitors weekly with staff and guidance issued from the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency, but some providers still insist on keeping doors closed. This must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”