In September 2021, Lynne Hughes was finally able to hug her mum for the first time in nearly two years after seeing her through panes of glass, across lawns and behind acrylic screens in sealed pods.
Tragically, for that final hug Lynne was leaning over mum Doreen’s coffin.
Care home resident Doreen Sutton, 91, had died after being rushed to hospital following a fall. Her death of her had been unexpected so her family of her were not with her.
READ MORE: The forgotten care home residents living with dementia, starved of family contact
From Monday, care home residents will be able to receive ‘unlimited’ visitors as the restrictions to tackle the Omicron variant are eased by the Department of Health.
For many families, this will no doubt be a time of celebration.
But for those who have lost their loved ones it has prompted sadness and anger as they reflect on a pandemic, and a Government response, which left them unable to hug their relatives as their hard-working carers, for many months, struggled to find PPE , access testing or ascertain whether patients coming from hospital had tested positive for Covid.
‘We’ve been robbed of my mum’s last years’
In the wake of the ‘partygate’ scandal and ahead of the Sue Gray report into the alleged flouting of lockdown rules at Number 10, Lynne is both devastated and angry.
She told the Manchester Evening News : “We weren’t allowed to hug my mum for nearly two years as restrictions continued.
“We saw her through the window, outside, and in a pod where my mum would just walk away because she couldn’t hear us and didn’t understand.
“I couldn’t embrace my mum until she was lying in a coffin, and I kissed her on the head to say goodbye.
“We’ve been robbed of my mum’s last years and so has she. She loved to hug, she loved to be held.
“When I think about Boris partying and smirking when we were going through that and our loved ones have died it’s disgraceful.
“We are heartbroken.”
Doreen, 91, who worked at Hope Hospital for 22 years, had been diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2018 and had moved from her home of 65 years in Worsley village to a care home in Boothtown, Salford.
There, she was known for her outgoing and loving nature, and how much she looked forward to visits from her family.
Which is why when the Covid-19 crisis and ensuing lockdowns hit, it meant her lifeline – the contact she had with loving friends and family – was cut off.
Sadly, she was never to meet her great-grandchildren born during the pandemic.
Last September, shortly after being moved from the care home to a mental health facility after her condition worsened, Doreen suffered a fall and was taken to Bolton hospital. Two days later, her family received a call to say she had died.
They say there was no warning so they were not able to be at her bedside.
Lynne, who is awaiting an inquest into her mum’s death, added: “Although she had mental health issues she was fit as a fiddle, the nurses used to say they had trouble keeping up with her.
“None of us were with her when she passed away and that’s been devastating.
“We had such a close bond and we weren’t physically able to hug. I’ve been robbed, she’s been robbed, her grandchildren have been robbed.
Doreen was given a send-off befitting a woman so dearly loved, with a funeral possession past her former home in Worsley and a wake at her favorite pub the Barton Arms, where every Sunday she would go with a friend for fish and chips.
‘Care homes waited months for help’
The details of Doreen’s last years will be familiar to thousands of residents and their families who sacrificed those precious final months with their loved ones.
Many care homes did their best during the pandemic, forced to follow Government rules, striving to protect residents from the virus while trying to balance their emotional needs.
But Judy Downie, chair of the Relatives and Residents Association, believes evidence points toward the fact that Covid was actually brought into settings predominantly by staff – who were, at least initially, left scrabbling by the Government for basic PPE.
She added: “Visitors were super careful. They were partners the same age or children in their sixties and seventies. Even in the good times many relatives would be careful if they had a sniffle.
“It was mostly staff bringing in Covid. They were getting on buses, their partners had public-facing jobs, how did we protect those people? They were not properly protected.
“Care home owners were having to get their own PPE from China. They waited months and months for Government help.”
Recalling how the initial stance from the Department for Health was that care homes ‘would be fine’, she added: “Then they suddenly realized people were dying like flies.”
Calling for the CQC to make care homes share their policies on visiting, she added: “The best homes have found ways to keep people visiting, the worst have made excuses.
“It’s become a way of thinking that people in care homes suddenly have fewer rights than people of the same age and infirmities in their own homes.
“The best homes give people a wonderful experience, the average has not been good. We’ve heard so many ghastly stories.”
‘I managed to get my mom home – but it was too late’
Another such story is that of Kimberley Ryan and her mum Kathryn Longden, who died nearly a year ago after contracting Covid.
Kathryn, 72, suffered from chronic lung disease and spent months during the pandemic confined to her basement bedroom.
Kimberley fought to have her mum home with her, but it wasn’t until she had just two weeks left to live that finally happened.
She said: “Seeing what’s come to light and how much notice the Government took of their own rules it just seems like they have taken the mick, to put it bluntly.
“People have died alone. I managed to get my mum home but it was late, I had two weeks with her after they held her in the home for 18 months.”
While Kathryn was in Kimberley’s Audenshaw home, the care home, Kathryn says, emailed her to say she could have regular visits because her mum was now ‘end of life’.
She added: “It’s almost like I can’t accept what’s happened. I can’t lay it to rest because I’m still very angry that things were dealt with the way they were.
“The Government rules were one thing – but to know the people who set the rules weren’t abiding by them is just something else.”
Judy Downie agreed, saying the government ‘has been cloth-eared throughout’.
“[They] showed no signs of having done anything more than make appropriate noises,” she said.
On the parties held at Number 10 while families fought to see their loved ones and attended funerals in the knowledge their relatives’ last days had been spent alone, she added: “I think one is left speechless. It’s hard to imagine the world they inhabit .
“Millions of people took the restrictions seriously.
“People who had dementia thought that people had died or abandoned them. I just don’t understand what passes for a mindset in Number 10.”
What the Prime Minister says:
the Manchester Evening News has asked Number 10 for more information regarding restrictions in care homes in light of the information that’s come to light about the alleged flouting of the rules.
A Number 10 spokesman referred us to Mr Johnson’s comments during Prime Ministers Questions: “ Mr Speaker, I want to apologize.
“I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months.
“I know the anguish that they have been through, unable to mourn their relatives and unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love. I know the rage they feel with me and with the Government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.”