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Ministers pressed on rights of those in care homes, hospitals and prisons

3 February 2021

The Joint Committee on Human Rights have written to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and Lucy Frazer, Prisons Minister, on the impact of long lockdown to those in care homes, hospitals and prisons.

Letter from Chair to Ministers

In January the Joint Committee on Human Rights heard from witnesses whose right to a family life (Article 8 ECHR) had been personally affected by the long lockdown in these settings.  

The Committee heard how families had been separated and the immense difficulties that this has had on both those within these settings and their loved ones.

The Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman, has written to the relevant ministers pressing for immediate action.

New legislation drafted

As tens of thousands of fragile older and disabled people in residential care are prevented from being visited by their closest relative, the Committee has drafted a new law which would end the blanket bans of relatives visits.

It would also require residential care homes to allow visits unless, after individualised assessment, a face-to-face visit is not possible for safety reasons.

Relatives remain an essential part of care for so many older and disabled people in care homes. It helps to keep their memories alive, it keeps them in touch with the world outside the home, and it reassures them of their continued place in the family and of the love of their family.  

Blanket bans are in breach of the legal right to family life. The Government has issued guidance saying visits should resume and be individually assessed, but that needs to be enforced by law to make sure it happens in all homes.  

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has drafted new regulations which they have asked the Secretary of State to put into law right away.

Key recommendations

It is understandable, after tens of thousands of care homes deaths, that there should be caution. But, as the Government have said, relatives must now be reunited with their loved ones in care homes and that needs to be backed up by law.  

The new law drafted by the Committee requires care homes to allow visits by a "person significant to the service user." This mirrors the law in Ontario in Canada where a close relative is regarded as part of the care team for the purpose of visits and tests.

In regard to prisons, the Committee is recommending once again that the Government immediately temporarily release from prison all remaining pregnant women and those in Mother and Baby Units who have been appropriately risk assessed.

Furthermore, the Committee have deemed it essential that the End of Custody Temporary Release scheme is now recommenced. Every effort should be made to identify those mothers with dependent children who could be released under this scheme and reunited with their children.  

Further information

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