Families fear being locked out from Northern Ireland care homes this Christmas

A Portadown woman who was unable to see her late mother for nine months during the pandemic says there is great fear among families that they could be locked out from seeing their loved ones this Christmas.

Martina Ferguson, whose mother Ursula Derry died in January from Covid, has been campaigning for better access for relatives to care homes - and for better safety for residents. Last Saturday she went with other families to Stormont to highlight their concerns.

The immediate fear of many families, she says, is that tightening Covid restrictions could mean they may once again be blocked from hugging their loved ones this Christmas.

“It’s important the public know if there is an outbreak over the Christmas period in a care home current guidance will not allow visiting into the care home - which is why it’s so important for all immediate families to be allowed to become Care Partners,” she said.

Portadown woman Martina Ferguson and her late mother Ursula Derry.

Becoming registered as ‘Care Partners’ means that there can be more flexibility for families and that visiting can always continue for the vulnerable. Anyone wishing to become a Care Partner simply needs to tell the manager of their care home, she says.

“Day centre services also need to resume for the vulnerable,” she urges.

For nine months during lockdown she was only able to see her mother through the window of her care home.

“I was at my wits’ end not being able to spend quality time with my dear mother, who had advanced dementia. My mother really relied on tactile sensory contact, the sensation of a hug and touch, and I understand the importance of spending meaningful quality time with a loved one in a care home.”

However her mother later contracted Covid and died on 4 January in hospital. “Thankfully I got into the hospital Covid ward as a Care Partner and held my mother’s hand to the end.”

This week the News Letter highlighted that Covid testing is not mandatory for front line health care workers in care homes or the NHS in NI. But Martina believes this is critically important to protect the elderly.

“I firmly believe testing of staff should be mandatory, especially when Care Partners [like her] can only see their loved ones during outbreaks if they prove they are ‘infection free’ by having a test,” she said.

She has also backed the call by the Commissioner for Older People in NI, Eddie Lynch, for a public enquiry into the handling of Covid in NI care homes, which saw the death of over 1000 residents in NI.

“I believe a public inquiry is important to learn lessons in NI, to find out what advice, what decisions were made to both Government and Care Home Providers as well as what concerns families raised and what was done following those concerns,” she added.

The Department of Health reported yesterday a further 1,549 positive cases of Covid and sadly, a further five deaths reported in the previous 24 hours. It also reported that 2,970,748 vaccines have been administered in NI so far.


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