The mother of three has come under fire from relatives who want an urgent resolution to a crisis that has seen face-to-face visits banned in institutions across the UK. Ms Whately issued new guidelines this week, promising to “bring families back together in the safest possible way”. But campaigners have challenged plans that require floor to ceiling screens or windows to divide care home residents from their family members. They say they are inhumane and insist “loved ones are not exhibits in a zoo”.
The separation scandal started as a grassroots campaign but inaction has seen 40 cross-party MPs demand Health Secretary Matt Hancock adopt a set of demands drawn up by pressure group Rights for Residents and supported by more than 180,000 people across Britain.
This includes granting a designated family member or friend the same key worker status as carers, subjecting them to regular Covid testing, and resuming regular indoor visits without time restrictions.
Ms Whately, 44, insisted what the Government had offered would “really make a difference”.
And yesterday she told the Daily Express, which has led the way in exposing the visitation crisis, that she has been moved by the response.
“I have been inundated with heartbreaking messages from people who have been separated from their loved ones. Some have brought me to tears,” she said. “This has been one of the most painful sacrifices. Being separated for such a long time can be devastating. That’s why I’m determined to bring families back together in the safest way.”
However, experts have panned the new guidance saying it would “literally leave people out in the cold” and even put residents’ “lives at risk”.
From last Thursday so-called “ad-hoc” visits were banned but Ms Whately’s department said homes “will be supported to provide safe visiting opportunities”.
It has approved visits at windows, “where the visitor doesn’t need to come inside or where the visitor remains in their car and the resident is socially distanced”, as well as using tablets and iPads.
Ms Whately said plans to allow specific family and friends to visit supported by a testing programme were being developed, with trials starting later this month.
She added: “Our guidance helps care providers and families strike the balance. For some with dementia a screen is too challenging. But for others it is making a difference.”
However, Jenny Morrison, founder of Rights for Residents, was appalled by the Care Minister’s response and said: “Once again the Minister has demonstrated an outstanding lack of empathy and understanding. Our loved ones are not exhibits in a zoo, to be stared at through a plastic screen.
“The Minister should walk in our shoes and see exactly what suffering is being inflicted by her guidelines across the country.
“Where is her understanding of how many loved ones have already died without their families? Rather than spend money on iPads and plastic screens, why doesn’t the Minister direct the funding to rapid tests for care homes? She has the opportunity and the power to fix it.”
While Kate Lee, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, warned: “Social isolation and lack of close family contact can have devastating consequences.”
This is the heart-rending moment care home resident Doreen Morris breaks down in tears because her daughter can’t come in for a hug.
A video made by Tracy Gothard, 51, shows dementia sufferer Doreen, 85, beaming after seeing her daughter outside the Bierley Court home in Bradford on October 29 – her first visit since August.
The great-great grandmother asks Tracy to “come in” but Tracy, 51, says: “I can’t come in, we’re not allowed yet because of that nasty bug.” She asks Doreen to “blow her a kiss” but the OAP instead bursts into tears.
Mother-of-two Tracy released the video to change the “unhealthy” visiting rules. She says Doreen loves the home and its staff, but added: “She’s like a prisoner in her own home. Something needs to change.”