HUNDREDS of care homes will not invite relatives inside to see their family as health boards rule out indoor visiting.

Public health directors in several of Scotland's health boards have deemed it still too risky to allow families of people in care homes to see them inside.

NHS Lanarkshire and Tayside have banned indoor visits for the time being, while NHS Grampian has delayed making its decision due to the recent outbreak of coronavirus in the area.

More than 200 care homes are within these areas alone, with homes in other areas failing to meet requirements to allow visitation inside.

It has also emerged many care homes have missed the deadline for setting out their proposals for meetings inside which had been set by the Scottish Government for Monday.

Industry body Scottish Care said returning to normal for people in homes and their families will be a "slow process" while Scottish Labour has said the ban is exacerbating the "hidden catastrophe" going on behind closed doors.

There is mounting evidence that the pandemic has taken its toll on elderly people living in homes, not just as a result of catching coronavirus but also the lack of interaction with their friends and family.

It has been particularly damaging to people with dementia, with campaigners this weekend calling for relatives to be considered equal partners in the care provided to care home residents.

Concerns are now growing over the ability to maintain any contact with relatives as the winter grows nearer, making outside sessions increasingly difficult.

Donald MacAskill, chief executive of Scottish care said: "First and foremost, care homes are a home - they are not a hospital unit or institution.

"We are all working hard to getting back to re-creating care homes as a place of home, where families can be with their relatives without having to make appointments, be restricted to time, and be limited in what they can do.

"This will be a slow process, but we must as a society give equal priority to our older citizens in the weeks and months ahead as we do to other sectors and age groups within our community.”

Scotland's largest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said it was reviewing the plans submitted by care providers and making decisions on indoor visiting on a case by case basis, while NHS Highland, Western Isles and Shetland said they were now allowing indoor visits.

In a letter sent to care providers on Friday, the director of public health for NHS Lanarkshire Gabe Docherty said: " I have considered these issues locally in conjunction with the Health Protection Team and due to concern about the development of cases in Lanarkshire and elsewhere, we are not able to introduce indoor visiting at this time.

"I am aware that this will cause a level of anxiety and disappointment among care home residents and their loved ones however we must do everything we can to protect residents, staff and their families."

NHS Tayside's public health chief Dr Emma Fletcher said the decision to "pause" the reintroduction of indoor visits was "very difficult" adding: " We know that this will be very disappointing for care home residents and their loved ones, however, we must ensure that we do everything we can to protect care home residents, staff and their families."

She added that visiting would be brought back "as soon as we are satisfied it is safe to do so."

A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said that the majority of care homes in Grampian have not yet submitted assessments, adding: "We are reviewing those that have, though this work has been delayed by the recent outbreak situation in Aberdeen."

Monica Lennon MSP and Scottish Labour spokeswoman for health said: "The prolonged ban on indoor visits has caused a hidden catastrophe in our care homes, evident in the huge emotional and mental distress many older people and disabled are experiencing due to forced separation from their loved ones.

“The Health Secretary has rejected sensible proposals for equality of status between care workers and relatives that would have allowed visiting to safely resume.

“Care homes residents can’t await until a human rights public inquiry; they need action now.

“The Health Secretary and the Minister for Older People are not living up to their responsibilities and this isn’t good enough.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Care home providers were asked to submit their plan to the relevant health board’s Director of Public Health by Monday, 24 August. Plans would then be signed off once the Director of Public Health was satisfied and if the home meets all the criteria for indoor visiting. To do this care homes must have been free of COVID-19 for 28 days and should be participating in the care home staff testing programme.

“We are aware that NHS Tayside and NHS Lanarkshire have held off on resuming indoor visits for now. We appreciate how important it is for care home residents and their families to have regular face-to-face contact during the pandemic and we know people will want to move to indoor visits as soon as possible. However, it is vital this is re-introduced only when it is safe to do so.

“Many care home providers have submitted their plans and are now welcoming one designated indoor visitor per resident, in addition to outdoor visits. Essential visits have continued throughout for end of life and, in exceptional circumstances, where a visitor may help to ease significant personal distress.”