CARE home campaigners fighting to have ‘cruel’ visiting rules changed are ‘cautiously optimistic’ today after the Health Secretary confirmed she will meet them.

Cathie Russell, co-founder of Care Home Relatives Scotland, said: “It’s great news - we have been trying so hard just to get a conversation about this.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s hurdle number one, and it has given us a wee bit of hope.”

The group organised a demo outside the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh yesterday (Wednesday) to mark the six-month anniversary of care homes being locked down because of Covid-19.

Cathie, whose mother Rose Hamilton is in a Glasgow care home, said: “Since then, husbands, wives, parents, sons, daughters and other close relatives of the 41,000 people in care have had no or very little access to their loved ones.

“We are calling on the First Minister to ask the Clinical and Professional Advisory Group, who wrote the Scottish care home visiting guidance, to meet representatives of our group to explore ways we can improve visiting arrangements in a safe way.”

She added: “One of the banners today said, ‘Covid can kill, isolation tortures,’ and it’s true. This is terrible for us, and there are real human rights and equalities issues at stake.

Glasgow Times:

“How can you ask elderly people, some of whom have hearing aids, to sit outside at a distance of three metres from you? It’s very cruel.”

Dozens of people, many holding photos of their relatives, took part in the socially-distanced LUV (Let Us Visit) demonstration yesterday.

Cathie said: “It was important to respect social distancing rules and the restrictions on gatherings, so it meant no more than six people from two household groups could socialise with each other outside the Parliament or go for coffee or lunch together.

“It felt quite strange and lonely – but it is nothing compared to the isolation our relatives have endured for so long, with no end in sight.”

Cathie’s mum Rose Hamilton moved into a care home in the west end of Glasgow last year.

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MSPs, including Scottish Labour’s health and social care spokesperson Monica Lennon, spent time talking to the group yesterday.

Ms Lennon said: “Six months since the ban on care home visiting was first introduced, the Scottish Government is still failing to recognise that husbands, wives, children and grandchildren are not simply visitors; they are caregivers and their loved ones are suffering mentally, emotionally and physically, the longer contact is prevented or severely restricted.

“Older and disabled people living in care homes cannot be expected to live their lives in isolation without the companionship and affection of their closest family and friends.”

She added: “After making terrible decisions at the start of the pandemic, including sending older people into care homes without testing for the virus and limiting their access to healthcare, the Scottish Government’s caution is understandable but it is not proportionate.

“Car park visits and waves at the window are falling short of the contact and care that older and disabled people in care homes need.

“Scottish Labour has previously put forward proposals for family caregivers to be given access to routine testing and PPE and afforded the same status as care staff. This is supported by charities and people right across Scotland.

Glasgow Times:

“This is a human rights issue that is touching the hearts of thousands of people and the Scottish Government must act now.”

Cathie said: “The demo was successful as an awareness-raising issue, but now we need action. The stories we are hearing from people through our Facebook page are heartbreaking.

“We are desperate. This is not a compassionate way to treat people.”

Read more: 'Will I ever hug my mum again?' - care home relatives urge end to 'prison-style' visiting

At the First Minister’s briefing yesterday, Scotland’s Chief Nursing Officer Professor Fiona McQueen said she understood the ‘anguish’ felt by relatives.

She said: “We know families are looking for close contact, want to see loved ones more frequently and spend more time with them.

“We are doing everything we can to ... best facilitate that and to make the lives of people in care homes and their families more joyous, more loving and more comfortable all round.

“We do understand the anguish it is causing some people.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Parliament said: “Health Secretary Jeane Freeman MSP is happy to meet with the group.”