Preston care home residents finally reunited with loved ones after a year apart
"I can't believe I will finally be able to touch her again."
Those were the words of Julie Hodgkinson, who was preparing to see her mum Lillian for the first time in 12 months at Brookside Care Home this morning, March 8.
A small window has divided them both for the past year, meaning Julie was unable to hold her mum's hand or even give her a loving embrace.
But following a change in government guidance, Julie was today finally able to step foot into the Clayton Brook residential home and feel the touch of her mother's hand for the first time since the pandemic began.
Julie, 57, said: "I couldn't sleep last night because I was so emotional and could not stop thinking about seeing her again. I love her more than life and she is my best friend, we used to do everything together. I just cannot wait to get in and see her.
"I can't believe today is the day I will finally be able to touch her again and see her. I know people have had concerns over the safety of elderly residents at care homes, but that comes at a cost, especially for those like my mum who also suffer from dementia and have really struggled with the sudden change in not being able to see their family or friends.
"I have travelled to visit her every day but I have only seen her through her bedroom window and it has been so confusing for her. When I walk away, I keep turning around to wave at her until I reach the top of the car park because I know she is crying and it breaks my heart. It has been horrendous for families like ours.
"I can't let her see me cry, because if I do then she breaks down. We have gone from normality to only being able to place our hands together through the glass, so I am so excited at the thought of touching her again and can't wait to be able to hug her and kiss her in the future."
New government guidance that came into force today, March 8, replaces the previously tighter restrictions on care home visits and gives one nominated visitor the chance to see their loved one in a more up close and personal environment for the first time since the virus took hold.
These visitors are tested using rapid lateral flow tests before every visit, must wear protective equipment and follow all other infection control measures implemented by the care home.
And care homes can continue to offer visits to other family members with arrangements such as outdoor visiting or with temporary visiting pods.
Having spent the past seven years battling dementia and recovering from numerous strokes, 88-year-old Lillian has spent the last 12 months longing to feel the touch of her daughter's hand.
Her face lit up with joy this morning as daughter Julie was finally able to make that dream a reality, telling her she "had waited so long for this day".
And they reminisced over happy memories visiting Llandudno for family holidays - a trip that Julie hopes they can make again over the coming months.
Julie added: "I am happy that the new rules mean I can finally see her, but I still can not understand some of the guidance. We are only allowed in once a week, so tomorrow when I come, my mum will be confused again about why I am back to speaking to her through a window again.
"My mum struggles to understand what has been going on, she calls it the big germ but doesn't really know how serious it has been, and it is heartbreaking and frustrating for families.
"She has been through so much over the past six years and we have nearly lost her a few times, but now she has come so far and keeps bouncing back.
"I think it is cruel that visits are still so restricted to just one hour a week because we have to be tested and she has already had her jab. I hope I will soon be able to see her at least three times a week to make her feel that we are returning to some normality, but this is the first step."
Brookside care home is among the few residential homes that can boast zero transmissions of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, with strict measures implemented by manager Louise Newton to protect the residents.
All residents at Brookside had received their first jab by the end of January.
And although the new change in guidance is welcome news, she says they must remain vigilant to continue protecting those in her care from the virus, limiting visits to just one hour a week.
Manager Louise said: "The past year has been exhausting and worrying for us, but we have been very strict with meeting guidelines and abiding by the rules to keep staff and residents safe.
"Today is a very special day for us because not only does it give us hope that Covid is coming to an end, but it means families and friends can be where they belong, visiting their elderly loved ones again.
"But, it is also a worrying time for us because we are not out of the woods yet - we have been able to keep all of our residents safe for a year, and we need to continue to do so.
"Today has been extremely exciting but it feels as though we are walking on high heels and wobbling a bit where we used to wear flat comfy shoes and plod along safely before the pandemic."
Nominated guests hoping to visit their loved ones at the Clayton Brook care home must take a rapid Covid test and receive a negative result before entering the premises, and wear gloves, a visor, face mask and apron.
And the government announced that they hope to allow more visitors into care homes when the second phase of their roadmap out of lockdown is reviewed on April 12.
County Councillor Graham Gooch, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for adult services said: "It's absolutely vital our care home residents have visits from their friends and family and we welcome the Government's decision to allow a named visitor to see a care home resident in person.
"This is a huge step forward and means that people will be able to interact with their loved ones, friends or other family members and even hold hands for the first time in months.
"Reducing the spread of coronavirus is still vitally important. The named visitors must wear PPE and have had a negative test result beforehand. The care homes will still have all social distancing and enhanced cleaning measures in place.
"We will be allowing these visits in all 16 county council-run care homes and are encouraging and supporting independent care providers to do the same in homes they run."
Minister for Care Helen Whately said: "One of the hardest things during this pandemic has been seeing families desperate to be reunited with their loved ones kept apart and I absolutely want to bring them back together.
"Throughout this pandemic, we have sought clinical guidance on how visits can be conducted safely. We had to restrict the majority of visiting when the new variant was discovered but we have done all we can to enable visits to continue in some form. That includes providing funding towards the costs of screens and PPE.
"As we begin to open up we will move step by step to increase visits while remembering we are still in the grip of a global pandemic."
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