ON a garden bench in the grounds of her mother’s care home, after her allotted half hour, once a week visit, Cathie Russell let the tears fall.

“I felt isolated,” she explains. “We have accepted the situation for so long, but as time passes and nothing changes, we are beginning to wonder if we will ever get back in – if we will ever be able to hug our parents again.”

Cathie is the co-founder of Care Home Relatives Scotland, a campaign group calling for the end to “Draconian” rules surrounding visits.

All care home visiting was suspended at the start of lockdown. Current Scottish Government guidance dictates that only outdoor visiting is allowed.

“I see my mum once a week for 30 minutes, sitting outside the home in a pagoda, three metres away from her,” says Cathie. “It’s worse than prison visiting. It’s not the care home’s fault. But this is wrong.”

Since starting the group, which is organising a demonstration at the Scottish Parliament for September 16, Cathie says she has experienced some “hostility”.

“Some people have said: ‘You’re getting to see your mum once a week, what are you moaning about?’” she says, sadly. “They say it’s about the staff being terrified, about keeping people safe. We understand completely, but there is no risk assessment being done, no moves being made to give relatives Essential Care Giver status, for example, which would mean we could go inside and we could sit with them, and do their hair and talk to them.

“We are prepared to be tested, to wear PPE, to undergo training – we will wear spacesuits if necessary. Of course safety is paramount. But we believe the risk can be managed.”

Cathie adds: “I have taken to speaking to the gardener, feeding him bits of information and stories about my mum, so he can go in and talk to her, remind her of those times we shared.”

Cathie’s mum Rose Hamilton loved hillwalking.

“She was very fit and active, still doing it in her 80s,” smiles Cathie. “I had been helping her out with over the last couple of years, and she had been brilliant. Then last summer, she broke her back, and she could not return home.”

Rose moved into a care home in the West End of Glasgow, near to where her daughter lived and it meant her three children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren could keep in touch and visit regularly.

“I could spend time with her, take her out in an assistance taxi, and that was how it went for a few months, and it was fine,” says Cathie.

“We treated it like her wee living room, and we could chat and sing and play her favourite music. And then, in March, everything stopped.”

When outdoor visiting resumedalmost four months later, Cathie says the staff would find her sitting crying on the bench and tell her not to worry, her mum was “a happy wee lady” and she was fine.

“I have been very fortunate that my mum’s home have taken very good care of her and treat her with a great deal of affection,” she says. “She is looking well but most of our members see a sharp decline.

“It is unlikely Covid will be gone any time soon and we need to find better ways to bring people together again in person – as they have already done in hospitals where a designated visitor can go in every day under the guidance.

“I definitely believe the fact my mum has no one to talk to about people we have known and shared memories has meant she has lost her bearings.”

Sheila Hall’s mother Alice is 95 and in a care home in Bearsden.

“My mum is as sharp as a tack but she is physically frail,” explains Sheila. “She understands about Covid, but as time goes on, I can see the difference in her.

“This is a woman who loved to be busy, who went to church and classical music concerts and enjoyed a wander around John Lewis – but she is becoming broken-spirited.”

Like Cathie, Sheila emphasises she is not complaining about the care home.

“Our complaint is not with individual care homes, it is with the policy from above,” she says.

“Hospital visiting guidelines take a compassionate view and look at mental heath and the needs of elderly, compared to this blanket ‘shut the homes’ policy. It is so wrong. Relatives should be able to apply for Essential Carer Status, to do the training, wear the PPE – everything that a carer has to do, we could do.

“I was a nurse for 40 years, so I do understand about infection control.”

She adds: “And I know we are lucky – my mum can use a phone, she can email, she can use FaceTime. My heart bleeds for people whose relatives have dementia.”

Sheila criticises the lack of “joined-up thinking” in the guidelines.

“If care home managers could be allowed the autonomy to treat our relatives and their circumstances individually, that would help," she says. "Our loved ones may be physically frail and in care, but they are still individual personalities and must be treated as such.”

For Cathie, news that a vaccine for adults may be available before Christmas sent alarm bells ringing.

“I heard Jason Leitch, Scotland’s National Clinical Director, discussing this on the radio – but I’m worried they may try to keep us out until then,” she says. “Some of our relatives may not make it.

“And if they die, then they spent their last few months isolated from us, and that is not right."

Since launching the campaign two weeks ago, the group has had two ‘chinks of light’, says Cathie.

“Glasgow’s Director of Public Health, Linda de Caestecker, responded positively, and we were pleased to see the Scottish Human Rights Commission send a letter to the Clinical and Professional Advisory Group responsible for guidance on care home visiting,” she explains.

Judith Robertson, chairperson of the SHRC said: “The Commission recommends that the assessment of whether a visit is essential be linked specifically to human rights law…and that care home managers are supported to make these decisions.

"This means that cases should be assessed on an individual not a blanket basis, taking into account not only the risk posed by COVID-19 but also the circumstances of individual residents and their families.”

A spokesman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: “We appreciate this is an extremely difficult period for many care home residents, and for their families. The points raised by the Care Home Relatives Group reflect this, and we can confirm that following their contact, we plan on giving their suggestions full consideration.

"However, current local restrictions within some Greater Glasgow and Clyde areas imposed earlier this week, have had to temporarily put this discussion on hold but we will certainly pick the suggestion back up when it is realistic and safe to do so.”

Cathie Russell adds: “On September 16, we hope the MSPs will come out and listen to what we have to say.

"I really believe that when we look back at this, what happened to these 41,000 people isolated from their families in care homes – that will be the biggest scandal of the Covid pandemic.”