‘People are Dying of Sadness’: Legal Challenge to Guidance on Care Home Visits

October 29, 2020 Updated: October 29, 2020

Campaigners are challenging the government in the courts over restrictions on care home visits that they say are leaving thousands of people “dying of sadness.”

John’s Campaign, which advocates for the rights of those with dementia, on Oct. 28 filed urgent court proceedings against the UK’s Department of Health over guidance which they say unlawfully encourages blanket bans on family visits in higher risk areas.

They argue that suspending visits has a medical impact, particularly on the 70 percent of residents who have dementia, “with many suffering a rapid deterioration of their symptoms, and premature death.”

The legal case is built on what they see as a gap between the guidance and the law, according to Leigh Day, their legal representatives.

Nicci Gerrard, the co-founder of John’s Campaign, said that for people with dementia family visits are like medicine or therapy.

Gerrard said that visitors are an essential part of the team of support.

“People with dementia are very precarious,” she told NTD, an Epoch Times affiliate. “They need to be kept linked to the world.”

She said: “There are people with dementia who have just been abandoned. They feel abandoned, and they feel punished, and they feel unloved—and that is shown by their increased agitation, their distress, the deterioration, their sense of being unloved, their increased death rates.”

Epoch Times Photo
A woman laughs as she speaks with her grandad during a drive-through visit at a residential care home near Banbury, west of London, on May 28, 2020. (Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

“Thousands and thousands of people are literally dying of sadness,” she said.

The excess death rate among dementia patients rose by a half during lockdown, according to John’s Campaign. That increase of 5,404 is the largest in non-COVID deaths for any condition.

Guidance ‘Misstates the Law’

They also reject the scientific basis for preventing visits in the name of infection control.

The legal challenge to the guidance was suspended while the government was revising the guidance. Those revisions did not go far enough for John’s Campaign, however.

“The Guidance misstates the law,” UK legal firm Leigh Day wrote in a statement for the press on Wednesday. “It suggests that for all residents in ‘high’ and ‘very high’ risk areas, visits should be limited to exceptional circumstances such as end of life, and that a ‘general policy’ for all residents may be adopted.

“In fact, care home providers are under a legal obligation in all areas to carry out individualised risk assessments,” adding that lockdown laws provides a general exception for visits in care homes.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that they could not comment on any ongoing legal action.

A DHSC spokesperson said in a statement, “We know limiting visits in care homes has been incredibly difficult for many families, but our first priority remains the prevention of infections to protect the lives of vulnerable residents.

“We have introduced tightened infection prevention and control measures to enable visits to continue safely where possible, but have had to limit visiting in all but exceptional circumstances for areas with high rates of infection.”

With additional reporting and interviews by Jane Werrell of NTD, an affiliate of The Epoch Times.

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