Nursing home residents are finally able to hug loved ones again – and some may even be able to join their families for Christmas, as it turned out last night.
In his first major intervention in the Daily Mail's Christmas campaign, Boris Johnson promised that rapid visitor tests would be rolled out to all nursing homes by the end of the year.
The program will give each resident two designated “key visitors” and end “nine months of torture”.
Many could do little more than wave to family and friends through prison-style windows or plastic screens.
However, yesterday evening it also emerged that the government was working on plans to allow retirement home residents to leave their homes entirely over Christmas to join a family household – as long as everyone in that household tests negative.
Caregivers will then likely need to be tested or isolated when they return to their nursing home.
Boris Johnson promised that by the end of the year, rapid visitor tests will be introduced in all nursing homes while residents are expected to have two "main visitors".
Ministers are expected to reveal more about the plan when Mr. Johnson releases details of the "festive bubble" system later this week.
In the official Covid-19 winter plan released yesterday evening, the government promised to pass a law by the end of the year to combat caregivers moving between homes.
The plan says that during the first wave, many caregivers – especially agency workers – accidentally passed the disease between homes. This resulted in a large number of coronavirus deaths.
Starting next month, each resident of a nursing home will be allowed to test their two main visitors twice a week.
In this way, husbands, wives, sons and daughters in nursing homes can be reunited and hugged, kissed and held for the first time since March.
Nurses caring for people within their own four walls have been offered weekly tests since yesterday, while nursing home residents will be allowed the two main visitors from next month, who are tested twice a week
Reaffirming the change, the winter plan reads, “If a visitor tests negative, wears appropriate personal protective equipment, and is following other infection control measures, visitors can have physical contact with loved ones such as personal attention, holding hands, and hugging. & # 39;
More detailed instructions will be published shortly.
The Prime Minister told Commons: “We will use rapid turnaround tests – lateral flow tests – that give results within 30 minutes to identify those without symptoms.
"We're starting to use these tests in our NHS and nursing homes in England so people will be able to hug and hold loved ones again instead of waving through a window."
He added that caregivers caring for people within their own four walls would be offered weekly tests starting yesterday.
Two weeks ago, the Daily Mail launched its Christmas campaign Let Them Hold Hands This, which called for an end to the cruel visitor bans.
We highlighted the devastation caused by restrictions on the country's 410,000 nursing home residents.
Lack of contact with family and friends has resulted in severe deterioration in the mental and physical health of residents, leading to a 50 percent increase in dementia deaths as many die of loneliness.
Disabled children and young adults in home care have also suffered, and parents are not allowed to hug them.
Agens Halliday, pictured with her great-granddaughter, went to a nursing home in March, days before the UK lockdown. Since then, six weeks ago, she has only been allowed one indoor visit, which lasted 30 minutes, before the nurses picked her up.
Activists said they were "excited" after the Prime Minister's announcement, but called for testing to be urgently introduced as many "cannot afford to wait until Christmas".
Fiona Carragher of the Alzheimer's Society said: "After eight harrowing months of devastation and tragic deaths, we are relieved that the Prime Minister has recognized the importance of family carers."
She urged officials to "keep up" with weekly updates from the test pilot for visitors in three counties.
She added, "Every day we hear of families who go out of their way to hold their loved ones tight and look them in the eye – a gentleman we spoke to has not held his wife since March."
PM boosts mail campaign – and as these heartbreaking pictures show Hugs can't come early enough
With 31 days to go until Christmas, changes to “prison-style” nursing home visits cannot come soon enough for Agnes Halliday.
The 89-year-old was photographed with her head in her hands when she was separated from the visiting relatives by a raw metal grille.
However, this is the gruesome reality faced by thousands of elderly people in nursing homes across the country.
Ms. Halliday, from East Lothian, has dementia and her family say she has been suicidal since she has been denied significant visits since March.
They claim the great grandmother was wasted in her nursing home and fear that she will die in her "miserable prison".
Her 58-year-old son Brian was only allowed one indoor visit to his mother in eight months. This ended with the nursing staff "pulling her away like a prisoner".
On other occasions he could see her, but only through a window or the grille in the garden.
Brian Halliday says his mother Agnes "asked me to help her commit suicide" when he visited her at her East Lothian nursing home. The great-grandmother's family says she was wasted in their nursing home and they fear she will die in their "miserable prison".
Mr. Halliday said: “The visits have been terrible. Every time she sees me, she asks me to help her commit suicide. Often times she didn't speak to me, she was so upset.
"They lock people in cages. It's like living in a dystopian science fiction novel. Fence visits are only allowed on a freezing cold day."
"To me it's torture. I'm afraid she will die in this wretched prison. The measures are killing her. She lost an incredible amount of weight. I tried to feed her through the windows – the staff said she would only." eat when i was there.
“She gave up. She used to be full of smiles and humor, but she no longer tries to talk. "
Ms. Halliday went to the nursing home in March, days before the UK lockdown.
Since then, six weeks ago, she has only been allowed one indoor visit, which lasted 30 minutes, before the nurses picked her up.
Mr. Halliday said, "I really had trouble seeing the terror on my mother's face when she knew they were coming to get her." She asked her to let her cuddle her and they just pulled her away like a prisoner. "
He added, "I have accepted that my mother is at the end of her life.
"But people don't want loved ones to go to their grave because they fear that their family has left them."
The family is supported by the Charity Care Campaign for the Vulnerable. It said: “Nobody in Westminster listens to activists or families … In the meantime, residents like Agnes Halliday are wasting the lack of family contact.
A spokesman for the East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership said: "We cannot comment on individual cases, but … we always do everything in our power to keep families in touch while ensuring that our residents are safe and sound stay healthy."
The darkness lifts. Now let's get started!
Commentary by Professor Karol Sikora
As this extraordinary year draws into the last few weeks, darkness begins to recede.
Even in the darkness of winter there is light at the end of the tunnel – and it gets brighter.
The start of this week has brought a slew of good news that appears to herald the conquest of the coronavirus.
Across the country, the number of new cases and hospital admissions are falling.
The national lockdown is being relaxed. Best of all, effective new vaccines are more effective than even the most optimistic expectations.
In the fight against Covid, the words "game changer" have been used too often, especially by our government, which has made it a habit to promise too much and deliver too little, as the controversies over the test regime and the supply of protective equipment show .
There is no doubt that after the long, painful months of contagion and stagnation, our outlook is suddenly much more optimistic, writes Professor KAROL SIKORA
But the term can certainly be used for the heroic recent development of vaccines.
In a remarkably short time, researchers are building an impressive pharmaceutical arsenal against the virus.
Earlier this month, American giant Pfizer and German company BioNTech announced that their groundbreaking vaccine had achieved a 95 percent success rate in preliminary trials.
That breakthrough was soon followed by US company Moderna, which announced last week that early testing of its new vaccine also showed it was effective 95 percent of the time.
Both are now in production and ready to be distributed quickly, subject to regulatory approval.
Now, closer to home, comes the uplifting news that the vaccine, made by the UK partnership between Oxford University and AstraZeneca, is sure to provide a huge additional supply of anti-Covid ammunition.
The Prime Minister was right yesterday to welcome the "incredibly exciting news".
Once the approval is granted, four million cans are ready, while the government has reserved 100 million puffs.
The Oxford vaccine may not be quite as effective as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but it has two major advantages over them.
Firstly, it's far cheaper to manufacture as each puff costs around £ 3 compared to £ 15 for Pfizer and £ 25 for Moderna.
Second, it is much easier to store and distribute as it can be kept at the temperature of a regular refrigerator while the Pfizer vaccine must be kept at -70 ° C.
This difference would be welcomed for the UK roll-out program but will be an even more important factor in developing countries where refrigeration and transport options are limited.
There is no doubt that our outlook is suddenly much more optimistic after the long, painful months of contagion and stagnation.
The Covid cycle can be interrupted and the disease almost eradicated.
In addition to protecting people, these powerful vaccines will stop the virus from spreading around the world once the full vaccination programs are in place. AstraZeneca has already committed to deliver three billion doses over the next year.
One thing I am vehemently against is any form of compulsory vaccination or the inability to make life work without it.
It has to be a choice, and given the survey, there should be no problem getting the numbers required.
Forcing people to take the vaccine would be morally unthinkable and create great resentment that would only force more problems than solve.
The entire Covid landscape has been changed. According to the Office for National Statistics, the incidence of coronavirus infections appears to have “flattened” in recent weeks.
Similarly, the number of hospital admissions for Covid has fallen significantly, easing pressure on the NHS.
This is particularly to be welcomed as it means that the health service can take responsibility again by treating all patients.
The energies of the state should now focus on the introduction of the vaccination program and not on the implementation of increasingly exquisite complex bureaucratic restrictions.
Yesterday Boris Johnson announced that the second lockdown – the value of which has never been proven because the previous tier system worked as intended – would end on December 2nd but would be replaced by a tough new system.
There are problems with this, but this is far better than a nationwide lockdown. The curfew has been pushed back, the self-isolation system reformed, fans returned to sports fields and much more.
There are some issues that have made sense, but the ongoing attack on our hospitality sector is unjustified.
With further improvements, the animal system can get us through until the vaccines can protect the vulnerable, while until then there is some semblance of normalcy.
The absolute priority for the government, however, should be to ensure that we now have a world-leading system for manufacturing and distributing vaccines that corresponds to the desire of the British people to return to "old normal". And that is now within our grasp.
- Professor Sikora is an Advisory Oncologist and Professor of Medicine in the University of Buckingham Medical School.
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