Today there is a national outcry about Covid-19 lockdown rules imposed on young students, after a number of outbreaks in University campuses in England and Scotland.  This has had a devastating effect on students, many of whom have left home for the first time as well as a worrying time for their parents/carers. The NUS accuse the Government and Universities of ‘selling them a lie’ around the safety of these institutions. Some students say they are more fearful of the isolation and anxiety, than Coronavirus itself.

At the other end of the age spectrum, elderly residents in care homes and, in particular, supported housing have faced isolation and loneliness for over 6 months. Many suffer from dementia, have little understanding of what has happened and are being denied care by their family where blanket visiting bans are in place.

Whilst in supported housing the rules vary from care homes, there has been little opportunity for ‘bubbles’ after shielding was paused on 31/07/2020.  Residents have been unable to mix with their neighbours, use communal dining rooms or take part in social activities. Unless a family member/carer is able to come and take them out they have been confined to their room. The frailest, who lack the digital skills, are left in solitude which we know is harmful to anyone of any age. In addition, I don’t want to lose sight on those of all ages who are living in similar settings with disabilities or other special needs.

Councillor Frances Mason
Councillor Frances Mason

At the Covid-19 Recovery Working Group, Cllr Joel Charles called for ‘a ring of steel around Harlow care homes and beyond’ to protect our most vulnerable residents.  As someone campaigning for the welfare of the elderly in care homes and supported housing a ‘circle of support’ would enhance their lives further.  Initially, Care homes and privatised Care Companies were denied PPE and testing, it is reported they were also used as a ‘dumping ground’ for elderly hospital patients, sent back to care homes to clear hospital beds without Covid tests, introducing the virus into vulnerable communities.   Sadly, residents in Care homes are now being denied some of their most basic rights with blanket bans in place on visiting. Supporting Housing providers are struggling to find a way to manage ‘bubbles’ to enable residents to return to communal dining or social activities. With the potential for local lockdowns in the future, many will remain in solitude for many more months equating to a prison sentence of more than 1 year, in fact prisoners would have been released at the 6-month point or earlier!

The Guardian reported ‘John’s Campaign’ is helping to lead a legal fight to overturn the ban that is separating carers from their loved ones in care homes, describing it as a ‘tragedy’. In their recent pre-action letter to the Government the response was the Government is too ‘busy’ dealing with Coronavirus to review care home visits, so there is little chance of a review of supported housing.

In terms of the outbreaks in Universities, there should be no surprises here, the TUC campaigned for the safety of staff and students on 05/08/2020.  The Labour Party also state the failure of track and trace has led to infections rising so dramatically, had the Government delivered this as promised, further lock down measures might not have been necessary.

Whilst this letter covers themes of Covid-19 from Universities, Care Homes and Supported Housing, our MP Robert Halfon, as Chair of Education Select Committee, will no doubt be looking at the issues of Universities on behalf of students and their families.

I have a new plea – to improve the lives of those who in our care homes with a more caring ‘circle of support’ to help our most vulnerable as they approach the end of their life.  A ‘circle of support’ has shown to be effective to include Carers/Family/Voluntary Sector to ensure vulnerable residents emotional and social needs are met as they approach the last stages of their lives.  In managing both the actuarial and dynamic risk factors, through the use of PPE, Covid-19 Declaration Forms, Temperature Testing and other options as they become available, we can improve the lives of those close to their death and avoid abandoning them further. A more caring ‘circle of support’ is needed and I would urge MP Robert Halfon to pressure the Government to find the time to look at these important issues as our most vulnerable, including veterans, deserve better.

Frances L Mason

Councillor for Toddbrook Ward

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