Ministers were last night urged to stick to their promise of care home visits for all after thousands of joyful reunions over the festive period.
Following a major Daily Mail Christmas campaign, residents in care homes have once again been allowed to hug their loved ones after being torn apart for nine months.
But charities have warned that ‘the cruellest of lotteries’ remains, with tens of thousands of families stuck in limbo due to a patchwork of different visiting rules across the country.
Residents in care homes have once again been allowed to hug their loved ones after being torn apart for nine months. Pictured: Pat Clarke, 85, was reunited with daughter Bairbre Duncan last week
The new Tier Four restrictions – now affecting 23 million people – include a ban on ‘close-contact’ visits, dealing a devastating blow to families hoping to be reunited.
Other relatives had hopes of Christmas visits crushed because some local authorities are advising against the use of rapid lateral flow tests amid concerns over their accuracy.
At the beginning of December, the Department of Health said all care home residents would be allowed two visits a week by Christmas thanks to the roll out of rapid tests.
Today we highlight the heartwarming cases of many of the UK’s 410,000 care residents who have been able to see their husbands, wives, sons and daughters at last.
Experts said the emotional reunions show the importance of hugs and hand-holding, warning that the continued isolation of residents will cost lives.
Charities urged the Government to keep care home visits at the top of their agenda in the New Year, including by examining ways of restarting them in Tier Four areas.
The smile that said it all
Care home resident Bob Benyon was grinning from ear to ear when he was reunited with his son Robert in time for Christmas.
Robert, from Flintshire, north Wales, visited his father at Orchard Manor care home in Chester. He said: ‘I was starting to wonder whether or not my dad recognised me after we were stuck with visits through a window.
Bob Benyon was reunited with son Robert
'But as soon as I got into see him, he had this big grin on his face and I knew then he knew who I was. It was a massive relief.
‘I was very close to my dad growing up, we’d always go to football matches together. So it’s been very hard being apart.
‘It’s such a relief that now I can have a quick test then go in and properly communicate with him.’
Fiona Carragher of Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘After a year filled with relentless tragedy and loss, and people in care homes being deprived essential contact from their families, it’s heartening to see that some have received a gift that money can’t buy – a long overdue hug from their loved one.
'In recent weeks we have seen that meaningful visits can happen safely through regular testing and other precautions such as PPE.
‘We thank the Daily Mail for joining forces with us to persistently campaign and take a stand for the thousands of people with dementia in care homes and their families who have been worst hit by this pandemic.
'The welfare of people with dementia must be at the top of the agenda in the crucial months ahead, not least in ensuring that care home residents in Tier Four are not left behind.’
Caroline Abrahams of Age UK said: ‘Amidst so much worry and gloom, it’s been fantastic to see the happiness, and sometimes the sheer relief, of all those older people and families who have been able to meet each other again.
'If anyone was wondering whether “visiting” really matters, all they need to do is to watch the videos, or talk to any of the older people and their loved ones who have come face to face in recent days, often for the first time in many months.
‘We have been reminded during this pandemic that the capacity to touch and to hug is unbelievably precious, something we are unlikely ever to take for granted again.
'The Daily Mail deserves huge credit for championing safe visiting, standing alongside older people and their increasingly desperate loved ones, and pressing for humanity and common sense.
‘I’m sure the campaign has made a difference and helped Government to see the light.
'It’s not job done yet as hundreds of thousands continue to wait in limbo, but I know the paper will keep at it until the tide has unmistakably turned.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘In the face of a new variant of the virus, we have acted to protect those most at risk in care homes.
‘Visits to care homes can still take place in Tier Four with arrangements such as substantial screens or visiting pods but, for the safety of loved ones, close-contact indoor visits supported by testing cannot take place in Tier Four areas.’
Pat Clarke, 85, leapt up from her chair the moment she saw Bairbre Duncan last week
Amazing! A joyous embrace, a coffee... and a catch-up on all the family gossip
This is the emotional moment a mother hugged her daughter for the first time since March.
Pat Clarke, 85, leapt up from her chair the moment she saw Bairbre Duncan last week.
Bairbre had just undergone a lateral flow test and, after testing negative, was able to go into her mother’s room and give her a cuddle.
Mrs Clarke, who lives at Manor House care home in Harrogate, north Yorkshire, said: ‘It was just amazing to see my Bairbre. Although we are beautifully cared for in the home, there’s nothing like getting a hug from family.’
Her daughter said: ‘I feel so lucky to have got in a visit with mum just in time for Christmas.
‘We don’t know what’s going to happen now so I feel very fortunate to have seen her in her room and held her hand.
'We’ve had window visits and things like that but there’s nothing like sitting down to have a cup of coffee together and discuss all the family gossip!’
Lovely to see Mum again
Decked out in PPE, Nicky Lovett was delighted to see her mother Jean Davis, 77, at Wentworth Court in Cheltenham face-to-face for the first time in nine months.
Nicky Lovett reunited mother Jean Davis, 77, at Wentworth Court in Cheltenham
Vulnerable residents at the home, who have dementia, have not had outside visitors since March. This has helped the home stay Covid free since April.
Mrs Lovett, 58, said: ‘It’s been hard, myself and my brother decided not to Skype during lockdown as we thought she wouldn’t understand why we couldn’t come in.
'It was just so lovely to be able to see mum again and have a chat and a hug.’
Home manager Gez Ossai said: ‘The lateral flow test has been brilliant and made it possible for us to reunite so many families.’