Ruthie Henshall: Rights of care home residents ‘fully delegated’

The human rights of care home residents are “entirely delegated” to care homes that have “a lot of power”, actress Ruthie Henschel has said.

Experts likened the care sector to the “Wild West” as the Joint Committee on Human Rights heard evidence on the impact of restrictions on vulnerable residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

MPs and colleagues were listening to the evidence as part of their new investigation into protecting human rights in care settings.

Henshall, whose mother Gloria passed away in May last year, said it was “absolutely devastating” to see her rapid decline as she was effectively spending “serious” alone time in her bedroom.

While she was given the status of a caregiver required to go inside the house, her sister had to push her hand through the window into her mother’s room to hold her hand before going inside.

She said that on Christmas 2020 she too was only able to see her mother from a window, who was in tears as she could not understand why her daughter did not come in.

The West End star, who is an ambassador for the campaign group for Residents, said: “I saw a huge decline in my mom – in four months.

“Their human rights are completely delegated to a business, not to the people who really matter and care.”

She said: “I think there is too much power in care homes, and they are not being monitored properly.

“And that’s to me, one of the big, big problems is that it seems we say very little about the care of our loved ones.”

She said it is “essential” that the right of an essential caregiver is enshrined in law, adding that the current guidance is “open to interpretation”.

Carolyn Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said families lose control over the care of a loved one once they enter a care home, and it is a “rights-free zone” for both families and residents.

She added: “And so put those two issues together and you regularly, frankly, end up with tragedies.

“It’s been the most terrifying time for older people in care homes, partly because so many people in particular had died before … the isolation of so many people, that’s really the people they see the most.” Too much love is the most important thing in their life, and take it away and often there’s not much left.”

She said: “It’s a wild west and there are no rights.

“So are we surprised where we are? It’s a complete lack of framework to protect people who, you know, are[at]one of the most vulnerable times of their lives.”

Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives and Residents Association, said older people in care “face the most serious, most sustained assault on their human rights that we have ever seen”.

Government guidance still fails to balance the risk of the coronavirus against the risk of isolation and “needs an urgent and complete overhaul”, she said.

She told the committee: “We know that segregation is having hugely damaging effects and it’s not just on well-being – it’s on people’s lives, it’s on their dignity, it’s on their freedom and their autonomy, and it’s on care. Providers tell us they want to do more to facilitate safe and meaningful connectivity and feel they can do it safely, but they feel bound by government guidance.

“And how would I describe it trying to wrap people in cotton wool, and it’s just not possible, it’s not desirable and it’s not legal.”