Calls for Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to ensure a "winter of hell" is avoided for care home residents were heard in Holyrood today.

Labour health spokesperson Monica Lennon urged action to allow families more access to their elderly loved ones in care homes. 

Ms Lennon also told the story of a 92-year-old woman who became so desperate she attempted to take her own life when coronavirus restrictions took their toll. 

In response, Ms Freeman said she hoped a “better balance” could be found and that there were hopes family members would receive an update "very shortly".

She also emphasised the "very sound" reasons for a report on the transfer of patients from hospital to care homes with the virus in the initial months of the pandemic being delayed.

READ MORE: Health chief Jason Leitch apologises over comment over the elderly in care homes

Questioned on why publication of the work had been put back to October, Ms Freeman said Public Health Scotland wanted to be absolutely certain the data was “robust and analytically sound”.

It has now been about 200 days since most care homes in Scotland went into lockdown.

Telling Holyrood that people were resorting to “hugging through plastic sheets” in homes, the Labour MSP said: “We must have a strategy to make sure that care givers and their loved ones can be together.

“We must avoid a winter of hell for families of loved ones, who have yes, survived the pandemic so far but are grieving in their own ways.”

Ms Lennon continued: “Right now thousands of people are in effect sealed off from their family care givers due to the current guidelines.

“One woman yesterday emailed me to tell me about her mum, who lives in a care home. She is frail, elderly and does not have dementia, so even though she is fully aware of going on she doesn’t fully understand why she is being deprived of family contact.

“Her mother’s mental health deteriorated badly and in June her mum, who is 92, tried to take her own life.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Report calls for care home design re-think

Relatives of care home residents recently staged a protest outside the Scottish Parliament.

Ms Lennon insisted access for family caregivers into care homes must be a priority, as she said: “Of course we need to do everything possible to stop the virus from getting into care homes but there is a hidden catastrophe in terms of mental health and we must do something about that too.”

Ms Freeman said while care homes had been allowing some visits since early in July, the current arrangements were not “normal” with physical distancing required and staff in personal protective equipment.

She added: “I am acutely conscious that what is probably missed most is time and touch – time with your loved one to talk, to have a cup of tea, to catch up on the news, and to touch, to hold your loved ones hand and to give them a hug.”

The Health Secretary also said that discussions on what could be done to facilitate visiting should “reach a conclusion very shortly”.