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The Dutch Way: enabling visits to care homes

“Relatives in Holland have been seeing their loved ones in care homes for many months now but here in England it still remains a story of near total isolation.”

 

My mother, 96 years old, is in a nursing home in England. My husband is Dutch and his brother, 76 years old, is in a care home in Holland. Our family sees first-hand the stark difference between what is happening in Holland and England about care home residents being able to meet with their nearest and dearest.

When the pandemic started and lockdowns were rapidly imposed across the world, the Dutch Government was no exception. Holland closed its care homes to visits. However, following massive opposition from relatives across the country, street demonstrations and large media coverage of the issues, the Dutch Government reversed its policy. The Dutch have since worked with the principle that relatives and friends must be able to visit their loved ones.

The Dutch do of course insist on infection control measures (wearing of PPE and social distancing when relatives come to visit, regular testing of residents for COVID, 10 days isolation for positive cases etc). But homes are not necessarily totally closed for visitors on the basis of one or two positive tests. In my brother-in-law’s home, residents receive visitors in their own rooms and can leave the building if they are not in isolation. All in all, the Dutch seem to have enabled a care home visiting strategy that respects human rights and dignity. It seeks to maintain a good balance between quality of life, mental health and social contacts on the one hand and risk of infection on the other.

We have a completely different experience here in England. Until earlier this month (when the Government changed its guidance), minimising the risk of infection seems to have been the sole concern, disregarding quality of life. My mother hasn’t been able to receive a single visit inside the home for 9 months now – just a handful of ‘window’ or half hour outdoor visits in the summer, spilt between the whole family!

For my brother-in-law in Holland (who is autistic and needs fixed patterns and routines), being able to have regular visits has meant he has been able to live much more like he did before the pandemic. My in-laws often comment on how well he’s doing now.

My mother luckily still has much clarity of mind, and can usually engage well with us by phone. She has always been remarkably independent and cheerful. However I feel this situation has been draining her inner resource and its heart breaking when I’ve heard her say things like “I’m barely existing” and “I’m feeling very low”. We’re more hopeful now that things will change, but how soon will that be?

There’s a side of me that has been slowly adapting and getting used to the predicament we find ourselves in. There might be an element of Zen-like acceptance going on, which helps me in some ways but that’s rather troubling in its own right. If we sit back and accept an unfolding humanitarian crisis, I wonder what else we might be prepared to accept.

Under the new Government guidance quick testing should soon allow us to visit my mum in her care home (provided the testing kits arrive in the home soon). Yet our Government puts a ban on anyone over 65 leaving their care home for a family visit. On the day I read this, I heard that my brother-in-law in Holland was preparing to visit his sister’s house to celebrate his birthday. What’s happening in England really is far removed from the Dutch approach.

I hope we are nearing the end of the draconian measures that we’ve had to put up with for at least 9 months now. But we don’t seem to be there yet, and I still don’t know whether my mum will be able to spend quality time with any of her family before Christmas.

Ruth Van Cranenburgh

 

R&RA are campaigning to End Isolation In Care. Find out how you can get involved here.

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this story, or would like advice or support on visiting your relative or friend in care, our helpline is here for you.


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