One of the most painful aspects of this pandemic, in Cheltenham and across the country, has been the restrictions on visiting loved ones in care homes. Some residents are suffering from dementia of some kind, and cutting human contact and breaking normal routines has caused deep confusion and pain in some. That in turn can hasten a steep decline. For family members, watching this in someone they love is a source of deep anguish and helplessness.
In those circumstances, I believe that fact-specific decisions on visits to care homes must be taken. I was concerned when I read initial public health guidance, which imposed in effect a blanket ban on all care home visits. I decided to write to Gloucestershire health chiefs, urging a more flexible approach which takes account of the specific circumstances, including the situation of the individual resident and the safety measures that it was possible to put in place.
I was delighted that here in Gloucestershire they listened, and decided to bring into effect a more discretionary procedure. In appropriate circumstances, visits can take place. Care home managers are encouraged to involve residents and their visitors in the decision-making process and single, constant visitors are encouraged. Local care homes are introducing new protocols, with visits booked in advance and public transport discouraged. PPE can be provided where needed. Importantly too, at the end of life a greater number of family or friends who wish to visit loved ones should be able to do so. That includes visits from faith leaders.
We know from the surging admissions figures to our local hospitals that this second wave is very significant. So we must not let down our guard. Care home managers have difficult judgements to make, and not all visits will be possible I recognise. But it is vital in specific cases to weigh in the balance the critical importance of loving contact.
It is part of what makes us human. We must not let this pandemic take that humanity away.