A retired TV executive said he was told restrictions to protect care homes from Covid-19 had accelerated his wife’s Alzheimer’s disease, and argued that plans to allow regular visits from March are “too little too late”.
Michael Blakstad, 80, said that with the rollout of testing and coronavirus vaccines in England, the Government should be “flexible” and “more scientific” over the application of care sector rules.
His 79-year-old wife Tricia entered a south Hampshire care home in July and his visits have been largely limited to half-hour distanced interactions behind a Perspex screen while wearing a face mask.
Mr Blakstad, who has Parkinson’s and uses a wheelchair, said: “It’s a very unreal experience – she kept trying to get through the Perspex screen because she doesn’t like being cooped up and tried to get to me, and that wasn’t very nice.”
He added: “The trouble that Tricia’s had is she hasn’t seen anybody except in a mask for six months, and it’s mighty difficult for someone with dementia to understand what’s going on and who is who.”
Due to entry requirements, a couple of falls requiring hospital trips and Covid cases being detected at the care home, Mr Blakstad estimated his wife had spent nine weeks in isolation overall.
Under care home guidance for England, new residents or those being discharged from hospitals should be isolated for 14 days in their room to minimise the risks to other residents.
“I’m sure that is where the real damage is done,” Mr Blakstad argued.
He added: “I believe that since everybody in the care home has been vaccinated, including the staff, and since we now have tests, I would suggest that they look very hard at whether we really need 14 days of isolation – it could be 10, it could be five.”
Mr Blakstad said he had received two doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, while his wife had been given one jab.
He added: “With vaccination, with testing, now established, then surely the ham-fisted regulations that Public Health England imposes could be looked at with a bit more subtly.”
Care home residents will be allowed to hold hands with a regular indoor visitor from March 8 under Government plans.
Visitors will be required to take a rapid coronavirus lateral flow test before entry and wear personal protective equipment (PPE).
Mr Blakstad, who is living in a retirement park near his wife’s care home, said if such measures had been brought in months earlier it would have saved his wife “from going completely down the hill”.
“She’s now in advanced dementia,” he said, adding: “The manager in the present home is sure that is due to the restrictions of Covid.”
Mr Blakstad, who had to sell his house to afford the £40,000 it has cost so far to cover his wife’s care, is now looking for a new specialist home that could meet her needs.
He said he had recently paid to spend two weeks living with his wife, as staff believed she would benefit from his presence while in isolation after a fall.
Mr Blakstad said his wife, who previously worked as a TV scenery designer for the BBC, had received “absolutely terrific” care from staff who “really love her”.
He said her home already conducts weekly PCR tests for residents, but warned the new proposed visiting rules would place “a lot of burden on staff”.
After a “disastrous” beginning to the pandemic, Mr Blakstad argued the Government was “over-regulating”, while private sector care homes were “scared of being sued”.
“The operators don’t dare go against the regulations because that would make them liable to be sued, so the whole atmosphere of the care sector is both petrified and petrifying,” he added.