Care home residents with dementia "feel abandoned" and have been "left to rot" because of coronavirus restrictions, their families have said.
Lockdown stopped relatives making care home visits and the continued shielding of residents means some can still only speak through windows or on the phone.
One woman said her mother had suffered a "shocking" decline as a result.
The Department for Health and Social Care said its priority was to protect residents and staff from the virus.
Government guidance published in July stated it was up to care providers, local authorities and public health experts to decide when visits could be reintroduced.
It also said visitors should "keep personal interaction with the resident to a minimum" and stay at least a metre away from them.
'Never smiling again'
Anne Byrne's 90-year-old mother Annie Cartwright lives at Community Integrated Care's (CIC) Kemp Lodge in Waterloo, Sefton, a home which cares for up to 38 people with a range of needs, including some living with dementia.
She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service Mrs Cartwright had been "compos mentis" before visiting was stopped by the introduction of lockdown in March, but now every day was "like Groundhog Day".
"The decline in my mum... is shocking," she said.
"She was completely 'with it' before... [but] now I speak with her on the phone and we have the same conversations every single time.
"People living in the home don't understand the pandemic - they think their families have abandoned them [or] don't love them any more."
Diane Mayhew, whose mother-in law Jean Morrison is also at the home, added her family were "absolutely heartbroken".
She said Mrs Morrison was "inconsolable", adding: "All we want to do is hug her and we can't.
"We try to talk to her through the window but... she is hard of hearing and she doesn't understand.
"We used to be able to make her smile, and when we said that's what we wanted to do, she said 'I'm never smiling again'."
'Consideration and co-ordination'
CIC managing director Martin McGuigan said the issue had been "possibly the most difficult aspect of this crisis" and restoring face-to-face visiting was "something that we are working through as a priority".
He said the deaths of residents in other homes with coronavirus had meant that "we need to be exceptionally careful and considered in how we reintroduce family visits to our homes".
"With increased footfall comes an increased risk of the spread of the virus [and so] the safe reintroduction of face-to-face family contact requires significant consideration and co-ordination."
He added that while they had allowed outdoor visits and contact through windows in an effort to "mitigate the risk of transmission" while providing some face-to-face contact, he understood "how challenging the restrictions on visitors have been for the people we support and their loved ones".
The government guidance stated the DHSC's "first priority continues to be to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission in care homes and prevent future outbreaks".
"We recognise that lockdown has been difficult for many residents and families over the past few months and that visits are important for all those in care settings," it continued.
"To limit risk, where visits do go ahead, this should be limited to a single constant visitor, per resident, wherever possible.
"This is in order to limit the overall numbers of visitors to the care home and the consequent risk of infection."
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We realise this is a very difficult time for families who understandably want to have more face-to-face contact with their loved ones.
"But our priority must be to protect residents and staff by preventing infections in care homes. And this means visits must be always be carried out safely and that in some cases personal contact will need be restricted."
- 22 July
- 22 July