Fears care home residents are serving ‘prison sentences’ in social isolation
PUBLISHED: 18:22 24 April 2020 | UPDATED: 18:28 24 April 2020
Elderly care home residents left confined to their rooms due to the government’s coronavirus social distancing rules are serving “a prison sentence”, it has been claimed.
Families, an MP and the county’s health watchdog have warned that the government’s guidance risks putting residents’ mental health at risk, should measures to limit the Covid-19 outbreak remain in place for months on end.
The Healthwatch Norfolk boss said homes could even face legal challenges from families for restricting residents’ liberties while a relative spoke of being “in pieces” over the prospect of elderly residents being kept in isolation in their rooms.
But one of the county’s care home providers said they had to make “difficult temporary adjustments” and praised its staff for “going above and beyond, despite huge challenges”.
And the head of a National Association of Care Providers said the sector was tasked with looking after the most vulnerable group and was “one of the most well-regulated to fulfil its obligations”.
The government’s guidance on admission and care of residents during the pandemic, issued on Thursday, April 2, instructed home providers to “follow social distancing measures for everyone in the home, wherever possible”.
It also told carers to abide by “shielding guidance for the extremely vulnerable group”.
But as the country completes its fifth week of full lockdown, fears have been raised about how long measures could be in place for and the impact on vulnerable adults.
Alex Stewart, Healthwatch Norfolk chief executive, said the situation “without a doubt” raised “a whole host of ethical issues”.
“From a safeguarding point of view, for an adult with learning difficulties, who’s used to ambling around, trying to explain something as complex as Covid-19 is just not going to happen,” he said.
“For people with dementia, who are already extremely frightened and vulnerable even before social distancing, if the people they’re used to seeing are no longer coming, their lack of ability to comprehend that is a concern.”
And Mr Stewart added: “Care homes could face huge problems in the future about being sued by families. There is the potential for that if they prevent somebody moving around - it is almost like being a prisoner in their homes.
“The likelihood is we’re going to be socially distancing until the end of the year. For someone within four walls, I can’t think of anything more depressing.”
And the organisation’s former chairman, William Armstrong, warned that care home residents were among the most isolated in society and stressed “if they’re deprived of support it could lead to a worsening of their condition”.
And Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said he found the policy “incomprehensible” and added: “They haven’t been able to leave their rooms for weeks. Many of them won’t know why their families have stopped coming in.
“It’s a prison sentence for some of them. It must be awful.
“It’s about quality of life,” he said. “We’re now being told this could go on for people of that age for months. They can’t stay in their rooms for months. They could see a massive deterioration.
“How long is too much?”
One relative – who has a loved one due to enter a home – said she was concerned by homes shutting their communal areas and limiting visitors.
She said: “It’s their home but at the moment it doesn’t feel like a home, it’s more like a prison.
“I am in pieces about my relative being stuck in their room. I can’t visit them – I don’t know how long they’re going to live.”
Nadra Ahmed, National Care Association (NCA) chairman, said: “We are in unprecedented times looking after a vulnerable group, identified from the start as being most at risk with underlying health conditions. We must safe guard them in every way we can.”
And she said the care sector was guided by legislation on mental capacity and regulatory guidance.
“We are probably one of the most regulated sectors,” she said.
“During a pandemic decisions have to be taken to fulfil obligations to residents and staff.”
And Martin Rix, from NorseCare, said measures were risk assessed and residents were being supported with technology to remain connected with family.
He added: “The very last thing any care provider wants to do is to introduce measures that increase isolation, but we are having to make some difficult temporary adjustments to keep vulnerable residents as safe as possible from the very significant risks that exist from Covid-19.”
The Department for Health and Social Care said social distancing and shielding measures were in place to save lives and care homes should follow the appropriate guidance for their residents medical needs.
It’s understood that the social care workforce, including new recruits, would be trained in delivering appropriate care and the department would support providers to offer this, as well as publishing guidance relating to care for people with learning disabilities and/or autism.READ MORE: What it’s like running a care home in lockdown