If Covid tests were made available family members could sit with loved ones in care homes

Sue Hessel's mum has not had a hug in six months.

Sue Hessel's mum has not had a hug in six months. - Credit: Archant

Back in March, mum was still sprightly and happy.

Her care home was a beacon of warmth and buzzed with life. Days were full - with singing and activities, visits from local schoolchildren and the church, trips out to the garden centre or coffee with an old neighbour. Families dropped in as often as they wanted. Pure gold.

Now there is an eerie silence as I press the makeshift bell on the perimeter fence of my Mum’s care home.

Even the birds seem not to sing any more.

The front door is out of bounds. In fact most things are forbidden; just one visitor at a time.

I am met outside by a care worker in full PPE who takes me round the back to a room with a vast glass screen. My sweet, lovely Mum is sitting wrapped in a blanket on the other side.

She looks tiny and pale, and my heart breaks again.

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Mum has not had a kiss or a hug for six months. For the first three months of lockdown no family visits were allowed.

She has Alzheimer’s and has now deteriorated rapidly. When she tried to get up her legs were shaking and I saw that she could no longer walk.

I couldn’t even reach out to take her hands.

In Stalinist Russia this would be a form of torture! Both for our loved ones inside, who must feel abandoned, and their husbands, wives, sons and daughters who watch helplessly.

For the care staff too, rushed off their feet and terrified that they will feel publicly responsible if they enter the league table of Covid deaths.

But if Covid tests were made available to key family members, we could come and sit naturally with our loved ones.

We could help. It is dawning on us now that this lockdown, in all its various guises, is neither weeks nor months, but “for the foreseeable future”.

This surely is the game changer, and time to look again. For in this Kafkaesque nightmare, we may be protecting the lives of our elderly, but we are no longer giving them life.

• Sue Hessel is a campaigner for carers and runs the Crouch End Carers Coffee Morning Group. She works as a psychotherapeutic counsellor.