The Scottish Government is being put under pressure to introduce legislation to give a nominated relative or friend the same access rights to care homes as staff.
Natasha Hamilton is calling on the First Minister to introduce ‘Anne’s Law’ in honour of her 62-year-old mother, who is battling dementia and resides in a care home in East Kilbride.
Anne Duke is a former care home therapist who was diagnosed with dementia seven years ago.
Her family made the difficult decision to put Anne into care in 2018 as at-home support was not available for people under 65.
“That was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. I remember the first day taking Mum to the home and just thinking I’ve abandoned her, I’ve left her on her own,” Natasha said.
“My Mum worked in a care home her whole life. Can you imagine having to live in your workplace for the rest of your life?”
Natasha has only been allowed indoors at her mother’s care facility three times, and this was only after a health scare in December allowed Natasha to make these emergency half hour visits.
Since then, she hasn’t been able to visit at all and Natasha fears her Mum “may not have much time left”.
“Before Covid, I used to spend a good six, seven, eight hours in my Mum’s room just sitting with her. We were still a part of Mum’s care plan,” she said.
Natasha says allowing residents a designated visitor would help their mental and physical wellbeing.
“We have to recognise the importance of family connection, keeping the person with dementia active and keeping whatever is still inside their brain there. That’s what we have a responsibility for.”
The petition has already been signed by more than 86,000 people and is being backed by all of Scotland’s opposition parties.
“I think the number of signatures says a lot for what it’s asking for. Just one person to be allowed into the care home, the same way staff are, it’s not too much to ask,” Natasha added,
Anne’s husband Campbell, a retired social worker who previously spent 40 hours a week by his wife’s side, is also backing the campaign.
He says “If Anne hadn’t worsened, I wouldn’t be allowed inside so it’s a mixed blessing. You can’t really gauge if my two hours a week are improving Anne’s condition or not. You can’t do much with two hours.
“Her condition has definitely deteriorated. She’s lost a lot of capacity and I would be fairly certain that’s not just because of the Alzheimer’s. It must be because she’s being kept apart from the family and friends that mean so much to her.
“She needs hands on communication and companionship.”
Natasha is pregnant with her first child and is worried that, because of restrictions, her Mum won’t meet her newest grandchild.
“I understand the risk of Covid. My Mum had it, I know how terrifying it is. But I can’t stop thinking about the residents in care homes and how sad they must be not seeing their families,” she said.
“It terrifies me that the isolation that’s happening to her, I don’t know, will she make it past six months and meet her grandchild?
“She was the first person I told. She managed to keep the secret. But the continued isolation just makes it a lot harder.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said:“We understand the severe impact this pandemic has had on people’s lives across Scotland and that it has been a particularly difficult time for people living in care homes, and their loved ones.
“Essential visits should continue to be supported at all stages of the pandemic, in all areas, no matter the current level.
“The move to temporary lockdown in mainland Scotland is not what anyone would have hoped for given that we are making progress on indoor visiting. Our aim is to keep this situation under control while the vaccination programme continues to make progress and get case numbers back to very low levels again.
“A legal right to visit has been raised by relatives at a meeting with the Health Secretary, and while we believe improvements underway to current measures offer the fastest route to improve the situation, we are exploring all options and engaging with people, including relatives of care home residents and care home providers, whom the Health Secretary met again this week.”