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Ruthie Henshall says care home visits ‘saved my mum’ in call to see loved ones

Watching her mother wither away in a care home has been torture for West End star Ruthie Henshall. But since being allowed back inside for regular visits five weeks ago, she has seen the light return to 87-year-old Gloria’s eyes.

“I’ve taken a before and after picture of her the day I walked back in and five weeks later and she looks 10 years younger,” she says.

“The care home manager said the other day, ‘Oh my God, the lights are on in her’. My mum looks at me like she’s at peace when I walk in the door.”

Ruthie, who starred in last year’s I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!, has been granted Essential Care Giver status, meaning she can spend as much time with her mum as she likes.

She is one of the lucky ones.

Coronavirus forced care homes to close their doors last year and hundreds of families are still not being allowed visits as outlined in government guidance, which came out on March 8.

Ruthie Henshall has called for care homes to be reopened for visiting

Previously, guidance also stated residents who leave a home must isolate alone in their room for 14 days on their return, but the Government announced today it was scrapping the measure.

From May 4, they will be able to visit a friend or family member’s garden, or go for walks in parks and beaches, accompanied by either a care worker or nominated visitor.

Campaigners say it’s a step in the right direction, but it must be legally binding.

Diane Mayhew, co-founder of Rights for Residents, says: “Our petition is about making the guidance law. Even though they’ve scrapped the 14-day isolation period, it doesn’t mean care providers are going to follow it.”

On Tuesday Ruthie, will, along with Rights for Residents, go to Downing Street to hand in a petition calling for emergency legislation that would ensure every care home resident has access to an ECG.

“We want our rights enshrined in law so these residents always have access to mental health and wellbeing support,” the 54-year-old says defiantly.

“Somebody needs to grow a pair of balls. This is insane. It’s not making any sense.”

Ruthie Henshall with her sister and mother Ann Neale
Ruthie Henshall with her sister and mother Ann Neale

In the space of a year Gloria, who has Parkinson’s and Lewy bodies dementia, can no longer walk or talk.

She has been living in a care home in Suffolk for the past four years.

“I believe that came entirely from lack of stimulation because she was locked down in her own room for four months,” Ruthie says. On the thought of what would have happened to her mum if Ruthie hadn’t been granted care giver status, she says: “I don’t honestly believe she would still be here.”

Ruthie, who grew up in Bromley, South East London, acknowledges there would have been some deterioration in the past year due to her mother’s condition.

But not being able to have a meaningful visit with her family for that time has taken an enormous toll on the former secondary school teacher. “In four months in lockdown she went from walking and talking to not walking and talking,” Ruthie says.

Ruthie Henshall says care home visits 'saved my mum' in call to see loved ones

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“Her food has to be mushed up and her drinks being thickened.

“Before lockdown my sisters and I would take her out every weekend, she was getting in and out of the car, we were having conversations.”

The family are also still reeling from the death of Ruthie’s dad, David, who died aged 90 in April last year from heart and kidney failure.

The last conversation Ruthie was able to have with Gloria was about his death.

She says: “My sisters and I had a full-on conversation with my mother and she was saying how sad she felt – he’d been poorly so maybe this was a release for him. She was able to have a complete conversation. That is the last time I had a conversation with her. Because within four months she wasn’t talking or walking.

“I can only get sounds out of her now, which are sounds of joy. She’s also slightly locked in because her body is failing her, so it’s her mind and her body failing.”

Ruthie Henshall with her mum Ann Neale on Mother's Day
Ruthie Henshall with her mum Ann Neale on Mother’s Day

When she went back in for the first time at the end of March, Ruthie says it took about 10 minutes for her mum to realise who she was.

Since then, she has seen those flashes of the fearless and brilliant mum she grew up with.

She says: “There are days I go in and she’s completely switched on.

“There’s a little wry smile she’s got that I know when I’ve said something, she makes noises. I’ll tell her a story and I hear her. The only comfort she has is touch, me reading to her, I feed her, I rub her feet, I do anything. I stroke her face and brush her face. She moans with delight.”

Ruthie and her fellow campaign-ers are “very angry” that visits continue to be restricted by some care providers, despite most residents now having received both jab doses. Visitors can also take regular tests and wear PPE to further cut the risks.

Rights for Residents says: “The guidance states that blanket visiting policies are not allowed and that each resident should undergo an individual risk assessment to establish which visits are most appropriate, as one size does not fit all and some have higher care needs than others.

Ruthie Henshall says seeing her mum during lockdown kept her alive
Ruthie Henshall says seeing her mum during lockdown kept her alive

“This is being denied and, as for ECGs, the larger corporate care providers are among the worst offenders, refusing to offer this at all.

“Unless the guidance is mandated and essential care givers rights enshrined in law, there will continue to be a postcode lottery of policies.”

Ruthie adds: “I spend a couple of hours every other day with mum, feed her, and time flies by.

“It’s essential she gets that. This needs to be happening everywhere.

“I’m at a loss to figure out how the Government has not made this law.”

The Department for Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.

Support the campaign here www.change.org/p/please-let-me-see-my-family-before-it-s-too-late

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