Care home visiting guidance not being followed, campaigners say as petition rejected

Relatives of those in care homes have vowed to keep campaigning after a petition for visiting rights to be enshrined in law was closed by the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee.

Natasha Hamilton with her mother Anne
Natasha Hamilton with her mother Anne

Campaign Group Care Home Relatives Scotland said a recent survey of its members found that 42 per cent were not being granted meaningful access to their loved ones care home, despite visits being allowed under new guidance from the Scottish Government.

The group warned of a gap between guidance and on-the-ground implementation, and also said the proposed “Anne’s Law” would prevent the distress caused by denial of visiting rights from happening again in future.

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The petition, created by Natasha Hamilton, with a proposed law named after her mother, who is in a care home, gained almost 95,000 signatures.

It called for the right for one designated family member to have meaningful access to their loved one and to be treated as a caregiver, under the guidelines of testing and PPE but without the time constraints placed on many visitors.

But the petitions committee chose to close the petition after members deemed it too slow a route to meaningful change, given the end of the parliamentary session and the fast-changing situation of the pandemic.

Members advised the campaigners to lobby political parties to campaign on the issue instead.

Convener of the committee Johann Lamont said the committee needed to be “honest” about the power of the petition.

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“We are gravely concerned that the gap between what the guidance says and how people are experiencing it, and the consequences for them and their loved ones, is absolutely massive,” she said.

"But that will not be resolved by it sitting with the public petitions committee. The urgency of what they want to do, and their solution, which is legislation, will need to be decided by policymakers.”

Founder of the petition Ms Hamilton said the campaign group will need to “change direction” and get the issue into political parties’ campaign manifestos ahead of the May election.

"We will need to think big to get our point across, I know we don’t have much fight left in us individually but together we can continue fighting on for our loved ones,” she said.

Cathie Russell, another member of Care Home Relatives Scotland, said the campaign will continue.

"There are still a lot of people who are not getting to see their relatives, and even those who do are often very restricted, to 30 minutes a week or something like that,” she said.

Ms Russell added that the group want to see legislation brought in as a more long-term solution in case of future pandemics or other unforeseen events.

"The current situation is by no means resolved, but we really want legislation for the longer term. It shouldn’t be an expectation that people in care will get to see their relatives, it should be a right.

"Regardless of what variants we see in the future, what new viruses or new bugs, people who go into care should never completely lose any link with their family, their husband, wife or child should be able to stay in touch with them throughout in the way that staff do.”

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