Visitors are forced to touch their elderly care home relatives through Covid-secure ‘hugging mitts’ as the UK enters its second lockdown.
A Sheffield care home has told loved ones to place their arms through the over-sized black gloves – more commonly seen in research labs – to hold hands with residents on the other side of a glass screen.
The affect of the UK’s second lockdown on pensioners’ mental health has become a topic of great concern as the country sees a second wave of the virus.
The first introduction of draconian social-distancing rules left countless numbers of the nation’s most vulnerable isolated for months on end.
And ahead of the November 5 restrictions, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was warned that banning care home visits again would breach ‘fundamental human rights’.
But concerns about isolation are mirrored by an increased virus risk.
Elderly people in a Sheffield care home have been provided with lab-style hugging sleeves so they can embrace their loved ones during the UK’s second lockdown. Pictured: 94-year-old resident Eve using the ‘visiting nook’
Pictures taken inside Hallamshire Care Home show residents – many of whom are in their 90s – smiling as they greet their visitors. Pictured: Mary, 98, greeting a loved one
More than 20,000 care home residents died from Covid-19 during the first wave of the pandemic and official figures show the number of people dying from Covid in English facilities doubled in a fortnight in October.
Experts say the decision to discharge thousands of untested hospital patients into care homes at the peak of the spring crisis was partly to blame.
And last month it was revealed health bosses are pursuing the same catastrophic policy again, in an attempt to free up NHS beds to protect the health service from being overwhelmed this winter.
The gloves are similar to those commonly seen at research labs – such as in this clinical virology laboratory in Tunisia
Staff at Hallamshire Care Home created a cold weather-friendly ‘visiting nook’. Pictured: Mary, 98, being greeted by a loved one
In a bid to tackle concerns about isolation in a safe way, staff at Hallamshire Care Home created a cold weather-friendly ‘visiting nook’.
Care home manager Scott Melville said their ‘hugging mits’ have enabled residents to touch family members for the first time in months, transforming visits into ‘special events’.
The 44-year-old said the space, which was opened last Friday, has been hailed a ‘fantastic idea’ as the absence of physical contact is something everybody’s ‘really been missing’.
Pictures taken inside the home show residents – many of whom are in their 90s – smiling as they greet their visitors.
Mr Melville – who’s been the manager for 13 years and lives in Sheffield – said: ‘It’s been so well received by all the residents and their families – they can actually touch again and hold hands.
‘It’s going beyond touching a window or through plastic, they’re actually able to sit and safely hold hands with loved ones that they haven’t been able to for six, seven, eight or nine months.
‘Contact is the most important thing, especially with loved ones – it’s what’s been really missing throughout care homes in recent months.
‘As much as our residents have different forms of dementia, they can still recognise or have some emotional reaction to touch, a cuddle or a handhold.
‘When that comes from someone that they may not initially recognise, but the emotion is still inside them, you can see the look on their faces that it means something.’
Hallamshire Care Home initially erected Covid-secure visiting gazebos where residents and visitors were separated by a window panel, but built their ‘nook’ to enable visits to continue throughout the winter months.
Visitors wear disposable gloves inside their mitts, and 30 minutes or more is allowed in between each slot to thoroughly steam sanitise the ‘nook’ ahead of the next visitor.
Mr Melville said: ‘The idea for the gloves came from a relative because in the gazebos she said ‘it was nice, you could feel the warmth of their hands through the plastic’.
Care home manager Scott Melville said their ‘hugging mits’ have enabled residents to touch family members for the first time in months, transforming visits into ‘special events’. Pictured: Valeria, 84, using the ‘nook’
Visitors at a Sheffield care home have to place their arms through the over-sized black gloves (pictured) – more commonly seen in research labs – to hold hands with their loved ones on the other side of a glass screen
The space, which was opened last Friday, has been hailed a ‘fantastic idea’ as the absence of physical contact is something everybody’s ‘really been missing’. Pictured: 84-year-old Valerie holding hands with a loved one
Visitors wear disposable gloves inside their mitts (pictured), and 30 minutes or more is allowed in between each slot to thoroughly steam sanitise the ‘nook’ ahead of the next visitor
Hallamshire Care Home (pictured) initially erected Covid-secure visiting gazebos where residents and visitors were separated by a window panel, but built their ‘nook’ to enable visits to continue throughout the winter months
‘I was sitting at home that night thinking we’re building this nook, let’s incorporate an actual ability to hold hands.
‘They’ve been able to sit and meet through the gazebo, but actually being able to physically hold hands with your mother, wife or husband is something they’ve not been able to do for so long.
‘That’s the bit that makes a huge difference, which takes it from a visit to an actual special event.’
Care organisations and Sir Keir Starmer – the leader of the Labour Party – have campaigned for visits to continue to be allowed during the second lockdown to avoid leaving residents isolated.
In Government guidance, issued less than 12 hours before new lockdown measures were introduced, the Department of Health suggested that homes could set up designated visitor ‘pods’ with screens, host visits through windows at a distance, or allow one-on-one meetings outdoors.
Failing that, it said, they should try to encourage more virtual visits.
But critics said the rules ‘miss the point’ and would not work well for people with dementia, who make up a majority of care home residents and of whom many would not understand or cope with the rules.
Outdoor visits will be out of the question for most as the autumn weather turns, with rain and plummeting temperatures now the norm across the country.
Martin Green, chair of Care England, said it was disappointing that a better policy had not been devised during the months since the first lockdown.
He said: ‘We are really upset that a proper policy has not been published in time when a second lockdown was always on the cards.’
In October it was revealed that a third of people living in care homes in England haven’t had a coronavirus test in a month despite the Government’s pledge to run regular testing.
Out of 32,000 residents quizzed on whether they had been tested within the last 30 days, only 62 per cent said they had.
Officials said they would test all people living in care homes at least once a month to stop the virus breaking out among the people most at risk of dying of Covid-19.
At least 100,000 tests per day have been ring-fenced for the purpose and staff are also tested regularly to try and keep tabs on the virus.
A survey by the Data Analysis Bureau, however, found that one in three residents have not been tested.
Testing in the homes appeared to hit its highest point in June, when the UK’s outbreak was tailing off, but has plummeted now that the testing system is under pressure from the thousands of members of the public being tested each day.
The researchers said care residents will ‘remain at risk’ until there is regular, reliable testing available to them.
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