Elderly people are being denied essential visits for 'severe distress' by care homes who fear prosecution over outbreaks, evidence suggests.

The daughter of a 90-year-old, who is in a local authority run home, claims she has only been able to visit her once - outdoors - after being admitted in March.

She told of the devastating impact on her mother who spent her 90th birthday without family and is grieving, alone, for the loss of her sister and “life-long companion”.

She questioned the need to place her mother in strict 28-day isolation after attending the funeral despite, she says, testing negative for Covid.

The home is one of five run by Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership and when asked, a spokeswoman said “all visiting is prohibited” including outdoor garden visits due to the additional restrictions current in place in the central belt following a surge in Covid cases.

However, when the Herald approached the Scottish Government about the elderly woman’s case a spokeswoman said she "would appear to meet the criteria" for essential visits, which are allowed in cases of severe distress and at ‘end of life’. 

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Health and social care partnerships have the authority to choose the level of visiting permitted, within the framework of government guidelines which have increased access for relatives in recent weeks.

However, elderly care experts say some care homes are reluctant to allow even essential visits due to concerns about being prosecuted for outbreaks and may enforce a total ban, while there is also disparity over what constitutes ‘end of life’. 

The daughter of the 90-year-old woman said the family has written to the First Minister and say they are exploring possible legal action.

She said: “My mum became a resident in her care home on the 19th March and I have seen her for an outdoor visit once.  

“She ‘celebrated’ her 90th birthday without her family, she has not been for a much-needed optician visit for over a year, she has not had her hearing aid fitted, promised to her over a year ago.

“She has not been to a hairdressers since lockdown which may seem trivial but she is a woman who cares about her appearance, or was until she moved into this care home.

“Furthermore, mum is currently grieving for her sister alone - they were life-long companions and my aunt’s passing has left her heart-broken.

“As a result of attending her sister’s funeral with a very limited amount of close family she has now been put in 28-day isolation (although she has tested negative for Covid).

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: Care home visits relaxed 

"This means she is not allowed to go onto the care home balcony for a bit of fresh air – this seems like severe punishment for leaving the home for a couple of hours.

“With all the other safety precautions in place this seems excessive and fundamentally unfair to a group of people who require family emotional support.

"Care home residents are not bringing Covid into the homes – care staff, agency staff and other workers are – yet care home residents are being punished.”

Professor June Andrews, who is an expert in elderly care, described the variance of visting restrictions as “confused, unfair and cruel.” 

She said:  “There are two reasons why you don’t let someone visit - one is because of infection control and the other is because you are obeying the law.

“Your dilemma comes when the regulations don’t appear to bear any relation to infection control science and you have a further dilemma if you have two areas of authority who don’t agree on what the interpretation of the current regulations ought to be. It’s all very confused and unfair and cruel and care homes are getting caught in the cross-fire.

“One of the things that would really help is if the government put something in place to protect homes against prosecution because quite often the homes are being over-cautious because they fear prosecution and hospitals don’t have to worry about that.”

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Labour’s Monica Lennon said society would look back on the way elderly people were treated during the pandemic ‘with shame’.

She added: “Infection prevention and control in care homes is vital, however, it shouldn’t be devoid of compassion. “This is yet another heartbreaking story of a care home resident who has lost their rights and freedoms.

“The Scottish Government has recently made some welcome changes to the guidance but in reality very few care home residents are seeing their family caregivers.

“Regular testing and PPE for families should be urgently put in place to bring an end to this isolation.”

A spokeswoman for Glasgow’s HSCP said it is planning to build all weather wooden pavilions in all it’s care homes to increase access to outdoor visiting.

She added: “Sadly, elderly people are among the most at risk from this highly infectious virus and we have to do everything possible to try to keep care home residents safe.

“Glasgow is under strict additional Scottish Government restrictions at the moment which prohibit all visiting in care homes and we must abide by these rules in the interest of residents’ safety. 

“Our dedicated staff are doing everything possible to keep morale high within homes and keep residents safe and entertained. 

“Technology such as video calls are being used to help residents see and speak to their relatives and we are also investing in sturdy, all-weather wooden pavilions which will be built (subject to planning permission) in the gardens of the five care homes run by the health and social care partnership. 

“When restrictions allow, these will enable residents to enjoy fresh air in comfort in the gardens with visitors.”