Families speak out about 'heartbreaking' visiting restrictions that remain in place at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals
The reality of a ban on hospital visitors has been laid bare as many families in Lancashire still remain unable to see their suffering loved ones over Covid-19 fears.
People were stopped from seeing their own family for weeks, some battled the aftermath of illness alone and others lost loved ones without the chance to say goodbye due to Covid-19 restrictions in Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (LTHFS).
Covid-19 has put a strain on the NHS since the start of the pandemic, with hospitals forced to restrict visitors in order to keep patients safe and stop the virus from spreading.
But as hospitals begin to relax their own visiting rules, including Blackpool Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust, which now permits up to one named visitor per patient, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals remain firm that their visiting restrictions will remain in place due to local levels of the virus in the area.
The trust took the decision to suspend all inpatient visitors on June 16 "due to the rising levels of Covid-19 in both the local area and within the hospitals" and has confirmed to the Post that it does not yet have plans to review visiting restrictions.
The trust is now only permitting visits under specific circumstances, including for patients with additional support needs, including end of life, on the maternity ward, neonatal ward and children's ward.
Families have spoken to the Post about the heartbreaking experiences they faced during the pandemic as they call for a review into the decision at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals.
Laura Jayne Ward, 33, is from Preston but is currently allowed just one allocated visitor at Blackpool Hospital after suffering a heart attack.
She was an inpatient at Royal Preston Hospital last year after suffering a brain haemorrhage and says she nearly died, but was coping alone and unable to see anyone.
She said she understands the tough restrictions in hospitals but that "more should be done to allow everyone to at least have one visitor."
She added: "I am currently only allowed one allocated person to come and see me and I think I will be in here for at least another three weeks. It is a welcome change than what I had last time, but both times I have been in hospital I have nearly died and just wanted my family around me.
"I understand why hospitals have to have tough restrictions in place as they are still very on top of making sure people follow restrictions but mentally it doesn't make sense.
"All these people who are perfectly well and healthy can have all these freedoms in the outside world but people who are really poorly haven't got something as simple as just seeing their child or parent. It is so lonely being in hospital by yourself.
"It is massively upsetting and I think more needs to be done by the hospitals to allow visitors in. I have been able to keep in touch with family through video chats, but so many older patients won't have the same options to just see someone face to face.
"I think hospitals are facing their own struggles with Covid, especially with staffing levels at the moment. But there is nothing in place to make sure everyone can have a visitor. If the patient and their visitor can prove they do not have Covid, then what is the problem?
"I have been diagnosed both times completely on my own and I understand it is so daunting for people. I understand why people are upset and feeling extremely vulnerable. It is heartbreaking."
29-year-old Nicola Wilson, from Preston, lost her grandad James Wilson, 83, on September 8, after he had been admitted to Royal Preston Hospital with low sodium caused by pulmonary fibrosis.
Days after being taken in, he unexpectedly passed away, without any family by his side.
Nicola says she will never forget that her grandad "died alone."
She added: "I persuaded him to go to the hospital when he was unwell, and when the ambulance came I realised I wouldn't be able to accompany or see him until he was out, but he never came out.
"We were told he had been laughing and joking with the nurses in the morning and then he just passed away. It was so sudden for us and both us and the nurses just didn't expect it so soon.
"All of my family are double jabbed and kept taking tests, and we all just wish we could've seen him. If visitors were allowed, one person would've been with him at all times, so he wouldn't have died alone.
"We knew he was coming to the end of his life, but there was nothing we could do. It is so heartbreaking. We will never get that time back now. It puts a shadow on his passing and I will never forget that we didn't get to say goodbye."
Visitors permitted into Lancashire Teaching Hospitals have to show proof of a negative lateral flow test, must wear a mask at all times and adopt the two-metre social distancing rule.
And the trust stands firm that the guidelines and restrictions in place "will not change at this time" in light of rising cases of Covid-19 in hospital admissions.
Donna Louise, 39, had to say an agonising goodbye to her mum Jaqueline, who was a patient in Royal Preston Hospital for five weeks after having her hernia removed.
But a lack of signal meant the mother and daughter couldn't even see each other over Facetime, which often left Donna "fearing the worst" and "waiting for a phone call with bad news."
Her mum has since been moved to Longridge Hospital and will remain there for as long as two months, meaning Donna can now visit her mum again, but questions why this wasn't the case at Preston, as she still has to provide evidence of a negative test.
She said: "I was close to cancelling a holiday I had booked because I was so scared about leaving my mum on her own. I wasn't even allowed to take a bag of her belongings to her and couldn't see her for five weeks.
"The only thing I could do was give her a wave from the bay window in the ward. People are losing family members and it is terrible, there were times I thought I would lose my mum and didn't know if it would be too late by the time they let me see her.
"Like most, she just wanted her family around her. I hated the thought of her being on her own and wanted to be by her side every day.
"If people have a negative test, I think the hospitals should be doing more to allow visitors in. It is so important that people get to see their family members, and I know my mum really struggled with it and felt so lonely.
"It is hard enough being in hospital and unwell with strangers around you, people want familiar faces around them, even if it is just for a few minutes. It has had such a huge impact on all of us."
When the Post contacted Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, it confirmed that it was not yet planning to review the visiting restrictions.
A statement read: "Public Health England’s infection prevention and control (IPC) guidelines remain in place for all patients, staff and visitors in a healthcare setting.
"This is because we are still seeing rising cases of Covid-19 in our communities and in admission to our hospitals. We can’t afford to become complacent in terms of the rigorous processes we follow to keep our patients, staff and visitors safe.
"With that in mind, we want to be really clear that current IPC guidance remains in place in hospitals, GP and other primary care practices in Lancashire and South Cumbria, and will not change at this time.
"The suspension is due to the rising levels of Covid-19 in both the local area and within our hospitals.
"We will of course be able to continue offering patients/relatives the option of Facetime (or alternative) to speak directly with their loved ones."
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