Bath campaigner’s sad story

[L to R: Hazel Leech; Dan Carden MP; Wera Hobhouse MP]

Bath-based campaigner Hazel Leech has been to Parliament to tell MP’s that what her family went through during the recent COVID-19 Pandemic should not be allowed to happen again.

In a moving speech to cross-party members – including Bath’s Wera Hobhouse – she spoke of the desperate situation where she and her family were denied access to her mother through the Pandemic before her sad passing. This damaged Hazel’s mother’s mental health and made the last year of her life very difficult for them all.  

Ms Hobhouse has backed Hazel in her campaign for relatives to have the right to visit those in care and, together, to strongly support a new Care Supporters Bill, called Gloria’s Law’, tabled by Dan Carden, who is the MP for Liverpool Walton. 

This law, if passed, would give anyone who needs it the right to unrestricted in-person support from at least one Essential Care Supporter (such as a family member or friend) in all health and care settings.  

At the recent event in Parliament attended by Ms Hobhouse, Dan Carden, Lib Dem Health Spokesperson and Deputy Leader, Daisy Cooper MP, and numerous other cross-party MPs, Ms Leech laid out the need to enshrine this right for a relative to be able to visit those in care after her experience with her mother during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Hazel’s story: 

Hazel’s mother, Barbara, went into care in 2020 at the age of 94. She was of sound mind but deaf and enjoyed daily visits from her family who took her out on jaunts. Once the world locked down, she was virtually a prisoner. She never really understood why she could not see her family. All activities in the home ceased and it was only possible to make a call once a week, due to shortage of staff – Barbara’s hearing aids had stopped working in week one, which is something Hazel used to regularly fix.

Hazel said, “Mum was often incarcerated in her room and must have been bored out of her mind!” Barbara’s mental health plummeted. Early on, she rang Hazel and told her that she had “been abandoned”, that she had “had enough” and that everyone should get on with their lives without her.

Hazel was distraught, yet powerless to change things. Hazel said: “there were plenty of experts advising the Government, but where were the experts on the effect of lockdown on mental health?” 

Then followed months of distressing, very limited contact. It seemed to the family that the care home was interpreting the Guidance as they wished, often to the detriment of the residents, and no one was ever held accountable for this. It was very difficult to challenge and yet they had to stay on good terms with the home, as they were looking after Barbara.  

As society opened up in Summer 2020, the family were allowed weekly contact, supervised and very limited. As the weather became colder, they were offered visits behind Perspex screens. These visits ended in tears as Barbara was deaf and could not understand why they could not touch.  

Then Barbara fell, broke her hip and went into hospital. Here Hazel and her family were able to visit without any restrictions, only due to a family contact who took pity on them. As a direct result of Hazel’s family’s support, Barbara’s mental health improved significantly: she was laughing and smiling again.

Hazel remembers her comment: “there was a time when you didn’t visit me, but we won’t talk about that again”. It was heart-breaking for Hazel to hear that her Mum did not know how hard they had tried during those dark months to gain access to her. 

When Hazel’s mum returned to the care home, visiting was painfully restricted again and the family had to pay for a private physio as Hazel was not allowed in to help her mum walk again. Then, just before Christmas 2020, Hazel’s family received a call that Barbara had fallen again. They were given a desperate choice: either accept end-of-life care or agree to her going back to hospital with no visits, where it was likely that she would die alone.

They decided they would stay with Barbara and were finally offered unfettered access to her room. Barbara survived two long weeks. She knew they were there, 18 hours a day, and was happy they could finally see and touch her again.  

Hazel is actively backing the Bill so the inhumanity that her mum, her family, and thousands of others up and down the country endured during the pandemic can never be allowed to happen again.

The care Hazel would have willingly provided, had she been allowed, should not have been seen as an optional extra. It was vital for Barbara’s mental health and just as important as the care she received from paid members of staff.  

Wera Hobhouse, MP for Bath, commented: 

“It is essential that we bring in this legislation and ensure no more families like Hazel’s have to go through that intense and prolonged trauma.

“The process of learning lessons from the pandemic should start with the passage of this law. While we accepted it at the time, we now understand more than ever that people need to be able to say goodbye and be there for a loved one in care in order to provide peace for the whole family. 

“It will give comfort to families that these situations can never arise again and ensure that people always have the right to have a loved one by their side.”

Dan Carden, MP for Liverpool Walton and who introduced the Bill to Parliament, commented:

“Campaign groups and their families should not still have to fight to see their loved ones in hospitals, care homes and other care settings.

“These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society – guidance has not and will not adequately protect their ability to spend time with those they hold dearest, as we have so often witnessed.

“Families do not deserve any further delay; they have suffered enough. We must learn from the collective trauma of the coronavirus pandemic and bring in legislation.

“I cannot think of any other issue that has commanded such unanimous cross-party support – my Ten Minute Rule Bill would ensure that those who receive health and care services have the right to be accompanied by a care supporter. It is in the Government’s hands now to put it into law.”