Covid: Calls for care home visits during end-of-life care

By Colette Hume
BBC Wales News

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media caption"We had 15 minutes to say goodbye to mum"

People should have unlimited access to care homes when their loved ones are in their final days, one family says.

Keith Lewis and his sisters cannot make repeated visits to mother Joyce, 94, because of ongoing Covid concerns.

Currently, decisions on it lie with individual homes, but Mr Lewis wants the new Welsh government to introduce rules to guarantee access.

The owners of Springbank care home in Barry, where Mrs Lewis lives, said they must protect residents and staff.

Mr Lewis said he and his two sisters were called to the home for what was described as an end-of-life visit after nursing and home staff told them Mrs Lewis was becoming increasingly frail.

"Both my sisters and myself were given 15 minutes. We had to put full PPE on but obviously the distressing thing is we're effectively told we may not be able to go in again.

"We were only allowed one end-of-life visit.

"From now on there's a compassionate visit for one sibling, a designated person, so effectively out of the three only one person can visit on a weekly basis.

"The frustrating part is that we can't do anything about it."

image copyrightKeith Lewis
image captionJoyce Lewis, 94, has lived at a care home in Barry for just over two years

Mrs Lewis had a stroke five years ago and has been a resident at the Vale of Glamorgan home for just over two years.

Before the pandemic, family members would visit every day and Mr Lewis bought a specially-adapted car to take her out.

Mr Lewis said last Monday's end-of-life visit could have been the last time he was able to see his mother because of the rules made by the home.

image copyrightKeith Lewis
image captionJoyce Lewis, who worked for the Post Office before retiring, used to enjoy travelling the world

"What do you say when you're told you have 15 minutes to say goodbye to your mum?

"That was very difficult... I remember telling her I loved her.

"We can't touch and there's a carer in attendance full-time. It's difficult to know what to say really apart from I know I did say a couple of times, 'Fight it, Mum, keep going'.

"She just nodded, she's obviously falling off to sleep every now and again, hopefully she's rallied... but nobody knows."

The Caron Group, which runs the home, said in pre-Covid times families would have had constant access, being able to stay overnight and be supported by staff.

Managing director Raam Joshi said: "We've made it our number one priority that no family should miss that moment to say their final goodbyes or have those final moment with their loved one in the event they are on the verge of passing away.

"It's a clinical decision made by the nurse to call the family and say, 'We think you need to come in and see your family member'.

image copyrightKeith Lewis
image captionJoyce Lewis' son said she is a loving and gentle person who worked hard throughout her life

"I completely understand when a family feel frustrated that they're allowed one end-of-life visit, but we have to balance the risk of the virus potentially entering the home and through guidance we have to manage social distancing, infection control, testing and it's a really rigorous process to allow even one visit.

"I know that families do understand where we're coming from when it comes to protecting our homes from the virus entering."

What are the rules on visiting care homes in Wales?

Welsh Government guidance leaves the final decisions about all visits, including crucial end-of-life visits, to individual care homes.

Mr Lewis called on the new administration to give families the legal right to see loved ones who are about to die.

"They need to make it law from the point of view of what people can and can't do at end of life, they can't just leave it to the nursing homes because the nursing homes effectively are not going to do anything because they're scared of litigation."

Official figures covering the week beginning 26 April showed care homes in Wales had recorded the lowest weekly figure since September - 22 - compared to 1,500 in the January peak.

There has been one Covid death involving a care home resident in the past week, on 5 May.

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