This has been an incredibly difficult time for care home staff, residents, and families. Thousands of families have been prevented from seeing their loved ones, many for almost a year, which has not only caused anguish but has significantly affected the physical and mental health of residents and sadly many have passed away.
On 20 February, the Scottish Government announced that routine indoor care home visits by relatives, friends and carers would be able to resume from early March. Care home residents will be able to receive two designated visitors each and one visit a week for each visitor.
Failures by the Scottish Government over care homes, PPE, testing and contact tracing has meant that families have been deprived of essential contact for so long. Scotland has seen a far greater proportion of excess deaths than Wales and Northern Ireland. Many of these excess deaths, many of which relating to dementia, could have been prevented with the right access to healthcare. Older people, including those living in care homes, simply did not get the NHS care they needed and confused Scottish Government guidance put them at risk. It is nothing short of a national scandal.
I understand that care home residents and families across Scotland will be relieved by the announcement that safe indoor visits can resume from next month. It is a testament to the campaigning efforts of families that we have found a way forward in resolving this issue.
Going forward, it is vital that the new guidelines are clear and that safety measures are sufficient to ensure there are no more broken promises and false hopes so that loved ones can be reunited again.
More generally, I support a rights-based approach that gives those living with dementia – and their families and carers – the ultimate say in the care they receive, and which ensures that care is of the highest standard possible.
On antipsychotic drugs, the Scottish Government’s Standards of Care for Dementia set out standards for the prescribing, use and review of psychoactive medications across all care settings. The Scottish Government has said such medication should be prescribed following appropriate individual clinical assessment and consultation with families and only after all other alternatives, including therapeutic interventions, have been explored.
In its 2020/2021 Programme for Government, the Scottish Government said it would continue national action on dementia prevention. It is essential that these action plans are backed up by adequate Government resources. That means the Scottish Government must halt local council budget cuts which they have implemented year upon year, having a severe impact on social care. Social care staff must have the time to provide the compassionate care that is needed.
The Scottish Government must get NHS services up and running and prioritise social care. I believe the need for a National Care Service has never been more pressing.