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Coalition Calls for New Legal Right to Maintain Contact in Health and Care

A coalition of organisations is calling for a new legal right to be introduced, to ensure people can maintain contact with their family across health and care settings. A broad spectrum of organisations has joined voices for this ‘never again’ moment, in response to the severe, detrimental impact isolation from family and friends has caused.

The joint call for a new right has been sent to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care ahead of an event in the UK Parliament to discuss this on 9 March. People who have been affected by separation during the pandemic will travel to Westminster to talk to MPs about their personal experiences and why this new right is needed to prevent further harm. They will include author Wendy Mitchell whose story of living with dementia has inspired so many.

Wendy said: “For some unknown reason, I’d forget, each time when asked, that I had an allergy to aspirin and [my daughter] was there to correct me. They asked me and if alone, I would simply have said no – that could be so dangerous.”

People across the country have been writing to their MPs in droves, inviting them to attend the event. Dozens of Parliamentarians have already expressed their support for a new right, including Liberal Democrat deputy leader, Daisy Cooper, and Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader Liz Saville Roberts. The cross-party event is being co-chaired by Conservative MP Tracey Crouch and Labour MP Dan Carden.

Actress Ruthie Henshall will also be attending this event. Ruthie, the ambassador of campaign group Rights for Residents, has ardently campaigned for new legislation – termed “Gloria’s law” – in memory of her late mum, who sadly passed away after experiencing months of isolation and separation from her family.

The joint call for a new right is supported by over 30 organisations, including Mind, Mencap, Healthwatch England and Disability Rights UK. The new right would give anyone who needs care and support access to a ‘care supporter’ – a relative or friend who can help them wherever they need it, such as in hospitals, care homes or GP surgeries. The joint call is below.

Tracey Crouch MP, who will co-chair the event in Parliament, said: “Over the past two years we’ve seen the devastating impact of people being isolated in health and care settings. We must recognise in law the crucial role family carers play in the lives of people in vulnerable situations. Access to a ‘care supporter’ should become a routine, key ingredient for good care, which one day any of us could need.”

Dan Carden MP, who will co-chair the event in Parliament, said: “No one has the right to separate people from their loved ones. We must learn the lessons of the past two years and guarantee the right to a ‘care supporter’ in hospitals and care homes. In November last year, I tabled two amendments to the Health and Care Bill, to put regular visiting on a statutory footing, as Government guidance has not yet properly facilitated this. The Government has a moral duty to guarantee regular and safe visiting to ensure care home residents and hospital patients are not left behind.”

Jenny Morrison, co-founder of Rights for Residents, said: “Having the support of a loved one is an essential component of care that should not be viewed as an optional extra. For two years, we’ve witnessed a huge deterioration in the mental health and wellbeing of those denied access to a ‘care supporter’. The Government must acknowledge that many vulnerable people have simply given up the will to live during the pandemic, as a result of prolonged periods of isolation and separation. We must guarantee people the right to have at least one family member or friend that is designated as part of their care team, and is crucial to their mental health and wellbeing”.

Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said: “People who need care must never again be isolated from those most important in their lives. Relatives and friends are much more than just ‘visitors’, they are a lifeline and shouldn’t face a battle to be recognised as a vital part of the care team. A new right to a ‘care supporter’ is urgently needed to end the terrible harm caused by isolation now and for years to come.”

Julia Jones, co-founder of John’s Campaign, said: “It’s time to clarify the mess of different guidance documents and voluntary arrangements that have failed to ensure that people living with frailty or disability are enabled to maintain their essential relationships. Potentially this matters to us all. None of us know when our time of need might come — a stroke, perhaps or a head injury transforming any of us overnight from an independently functioning adult to someone who will need that extra help for resilience and personal survival.”