'I long to hold her hand': man's heartache at being apart from wife of 63 years at Christmas
- Credit: Courtesy Brendan Black
A devoted husband fears slow roll-out of care home Covid testing could wreck his chance of being in the same room as his wife of 63 years this Christmas.
Brendan Black's wife Joan, 83, has dementia and his visits to see her in the Norfolk care home she lives in have been limited to talking to her through a window.
The government pledged on December 1 that care home residents in all tiers would have the chance to have visits before Christmas, which health secretary Matt Hancock described as "meaningful contact".
More than 1m rapid-result lateral flow tests have been sent to England's 385 biggest care homes, but no detail has yet emerged on when smaller homes will receive them.
And Mr Black, 83, from West Winch, said a member of staff at the home his wife was in said they had yet to receive any kits.
He said: "I am so worried that I'm not going to see my wife this Christmas. I am sick to the back teeth of not being able to be with her.
"We will have been married for 63 years this year. We were always so close and I miss her greatly. I well up every time I talk about her."
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"I can go to see her through a window, but she doesn't understand why I can't go in. She just says 'come in, come in' and I can't. And I can't properly explain to her why I can't.
"Those window visits are not contact. I stand there, with the window about two inches open, shivering in the cold and Joan gets cold too, so I tell her to go back inside.
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"I long to be able to visit for as long as we want, to sit next to her holding her hand, playing games, to take her for a ride in our car, visit our daughter, just have a meal at home."
Mr Black said he was angry that the government had said people would be able to visit loved ones over the festive period, when, at least in his case, there seems little sign that will happen - with the clock ticking on Christmas Day.
He said he had had nothing from the care home to indicate if or when tests would take place.
Mr Black said: "Being able to be with our loved ones at Christmas is the basics. All we need is the same sort of test that the care home workers give.
"And then I read that they are testing a load of schoolchildren in some parts of the country, but what about us?"
Mr Black has been in contact with the Relatives and Residents Association about his concerns.
Judy Downey, chairwoman of the association, said the overwhelming majority of calls to its helpline continued to be about banned or restricted visits.
She said: "Government guidance seems to give people hope and then take it away. The confusion about visits is compounded by the chaos of the lateral flow tests.
"Families are in despair and watching parents and partners suffer depression and deterioration as they fail to understand why they continue to be punished in this way.
"What's happened to the consideration of the human rights of those at the end of their lives?"
Charity Age UK says progress on enabling visits has stalled, with some care homes worried about insurance issues and concerns about the accuracy of rapid-result tests.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We have sent out millions of free tests and items of PPE and offered guidance to support care home providers to bring families back together and will continue to work with the sector to identify any further support we can provide."
"Extensive testing has shown lateral flow devices are suitable for use in care homes as part of the approach and it's essential visitors wear PPE and follow all infection control methods to keep their loved ones, other residents and staff as safe as possible."