'These are people's homes' - anger as care home residents told to wear masks

Relatives of people in care homes have demanded clarification from the Scottish Government in the wake of “inconceivable” new guidance on mask-wearing.

New advice from the Scottish Government states that residents should wear a disposable (FRSM) face mask in communal spaces, unless they are exempt.

But relatives have said they “cannot believe it”, as the measure would be distressing to residents and communal areas are still part of their “own homes”.

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Cathie Russell, whose mother lives in a care home in Glasgow, said the elderly woman found it very difficult to wear a mask on the occasions when it has been necessary, including when visiting hospital.

Resident Annie Innes, 90, talks with a healthcare worker at the Abercorn House Care Home in Hamilton.

“It just feels odd, she just pulls it up on her face,” she said.

"These are people's homes, they're not a temporary place where they go, this is where they live.

“You're basically condemning these people to never see a human face, because the staff always wear masks, and relatives have to wear masks, and now even [residents] have to wear masks, they can’t even see each other. We’re really quite concerned about it.”

People with dementia have been excluded from mask-wearing requirements in some settings, but it is not clear if that will be the case in care homes.

Sheila Hall, whose Glasgow-based mother does not have dementia, said if there was an exemption then those wearing masks would be in the minority, and feel discriminated against because of this.

She said: "My mum doesn't have dementia, but she’s 96. Why should she have to sit waiting a mask in the communal room? For her dignity, why should she wear it in her own home? I don't think it's fair to discriminate.”

Scottish Care, a representative body for the independent care sector, said it had sought clarification on the issue from the Scottish Government.

CEO Dr Donald Macaskill said residents with dementia must be “sensitively supported”, and that “wearing a mask continuously is inconceivable”, as a care home is not a clinical setting.

Derek Barron, director of care at Erskine, which offers care for veterans and their spouses, said “humanity is again being left behind” in the guidance.

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Some care home providers have already warned relatives that mask-wearing will be implemented in communal areas.

Jack Ryan, CEO of Newark Care, wrote in an email to relatives: “We have just received revised guidance from the Chief Nursing Officer on the use of face coverings within the homes. All residents are now required to wear a face mask whenever they are receiving personal care or whenever they are using communal areas.

“Please be assured that this latest development does not mean that there is any suspected rise in infection levels across the care home sector. The same requirements are being introduced in all care environments as an additional step to limit the spread of the virus across the community.

"We thought it best to let you know in advance of any visits you might have planned so you aren’t alarmed by the sight of residents wearing masks around the home.

"We can’t pretend to be thrilled by this change, but we have no option but to follow the guidance. Hopefully this is a temporary measure.”

The Scottish Government was contacted for comment.

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