NEW and different ways of enabling families to see their loved ones in care homes will need to be developed, councillors have been told.

A ban on care home visits was put in place by the local outbreak management board in September in response to the surging coronavirus rates in St Helens and the wider region.

Rachel Cleal, St Helens Borough Council’s director for adult services, was quizzed by councillors on Monday about how the authority is supporting the care sector during the pandemic.

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At a meeting of the council’s adult social care and health scrutiny committee, Ms Cleal was pressed about the use of assistive technology to facilitate visits.

One example is the use of iPads to enable health care professionals to carry out Skype consultations with residents whenever possible and appropriate.

However, Rainford Conservative councillor Linda Mussell said this would be “virtually impossible” for some residents, and said alternative strategies need to be developed to support families to see their loved ones.

Cllr Mussell said: “With my mum they said I can’t see her. I hadn’t seen her since February. Then they told me when I did see her, don’t touch her, don’t hug her. But she’s blind and deaf, what else can I do? She’s 91.

“And I think you’ve got to off weigh that risk of how she feels not having seen me to having seen me and giving her a hug.

“I think it’s really important that we review this all the time.”

Ms Cleal said care home visiting is kept “constantly under review” by the outbreak management board, which is chaired by the leader of St Helens Borough Council.

She also acknowledged that a lack of physical visits can prove damaging to residents.

Ms Cleal said: “We understand, I think, as a borough that the actual inability to go and visit somebody in the flesh can have, sometimes, more detrimental to that individual and their mental wellbeing, potentially, than the impact of Covid, which is quite an extreme thing to say.

“But I think we have experienced a number of individuals whose actual mental wellbeing has caused them to advance to end of life. ”

Ms Cleal said care home staff talk on a weekly basis of the “emotional difficulty” the restrictions on visiting is having of residents.

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She also praised care homes for doing “whatever they can in innovative and creative ways” to facilitate visits.

“Throughout the whole pandemic we have, and the care homes have, facilitated end of life visits,” Ms Cleal added.

“However, I do think, as we know we’ve already had seven months of restricted visiting, we are looking at potentially, who knows how many more months, so we do need to think about new and different ways of facilitating visits in a safe way.”