Families call for legal right to maintain contact in health and care settings

Campaigners said people receiving care must “never again” be cut off from their loved ones.

04 March 2022

Campaigners and MPs are calling for a new legal right which would enable people in health and care settings to maintain contact with at least one loved one providing essential support.

A coalition of organisations is calling for people to have the right to unrestricted contact with a “care supporter” in a bid to make sure that the isolation experienced by some in care during the pandemic is “never again” felt.

The new right would give anyone who needs care and support access to a friend or relative who can support them across the health and care system, such as in hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries.

It would include a duty on health and care providers to facilitate contact, which would be monitored and enforced by the regulator.

Under the proposals, contact would only be restricted on an individual basis if there was an immediate risk of harm from the care supporter – such as being infectious or a safeguarding risk.

The joint call is being coordinated by the charity the Relatives and Residents Association and campaign groups John’s Campaign and Rights For Residents.

It is supported by more than 30 organisations including Mind, Mencap, Healthwatch England and Disability Rights UK, and MPs including Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper and Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader Liz Saville Roberts.

It comes ahead of an event in Parliament next Wednesday where families affected by separation during the pandemic will share their experiences with MPs.

Attendees will include actress Ruthie Henshall, whose mother Gloria, a care home resident, died in May 2021, and author Wendy Mitchell, who has dementia.

Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, who will co-chair the event, said: “Over the past two years we’ve seen the devastating impact of people being isolated in health and care settings.

“We must recognise in law the crucial role family carers play in the lives of people in vulnerable situations.

“Access to a ‘care supporter’ should become a routine, key ingredient for good care, which one day any of us could need.”

Labour MP Dan Carden, who will also co-chair the meeting, said lessons from the last two years must be learned, adding: “The Government has a moral duty to guarantee regular and safe visiting to ensure care home residents and hospital patients are not left behind.”

Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives and Residents Association, said people receiving care must “never again” be cut off from their loved ones.

She said: “Relatives and friends are much more than just ‘visitors’, they are a lifeline and shouldn’t face a battle to be recognised as a vital part of the care team.

“A new right to a ‘care supporter’ is urgently needed to end the terrible harm caused by isolation now and for years to come.”

Julia Jones, co-founder of John’s Campaign, said the Government must “clarify the mess of different guidance documents and voluntary arrangements that have failed to ensure that people living with frailty or disability are enabled to maintain their essential relationships”.

Jenny Morrison, co-founder of Rights for Residents, said having the support of a loved one should not be viewed as an “optional extra”.

She said there has been a “huge deterioration” in the mental health of those denied access to loved ones, adding: “The Government must acknowledge that many vulnerable people have simply given up the will to live during the pandemic, as a result of prolonged periods of isolation and separation.”

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