Scottish families' 'legal threat' over care home visiting

Families of Scottish care home residents are ready to take legal action and withhold fees amid growing anger over a lack of visiting access with loved ones, MSPs have been told.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has now agreed to cross-party talks in a bid to resolve the concerns.

The move comes after doctors, politicians, lawyers, campaigners and celebrities signed an open letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the weekend urging her to step in and end the "human rights scandal" around care home visiting in Scotland.

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"I've spoken to families over the weekend who are prepared to take action they really do not want to take," Labour MSP Neil Findlay told Ms Freeman at Holyrood on Tuesday.

"That would include the withholding of care home fees and it would include legal action."

He called for immediate cross-party talks with Ms Freeman to examine the prospect of emergency legislation to facilitate "safe, regular contact" with family members in care.

Ms Freeman said she was prepared to have talks with other parties on the issue.

She said 40 per cent of care homes where there was no outbreak were allowing indoor visits, up to four-hour visits in some cases.

Ms Freeman said guidance issued for Christmas and New Year was "significantly improved and sets out "what care homes can do, what visitors can do and what precautions need to be taken”.

New lateral flow tests are being trialled in 14 homes across five council areas this week and will be rolled out across the country next week to ensure better visiting over the festive period.

But Mr Findlay said: "Despite assurances that we can have regular visiting of up to four hours, close contact and hold the hand of our loved ones, for the overwhelming majority of families this bears no relation to reality.

"They have even less contact than before the Cabinet Secretary's announcements. This situation cannot continue, families had had enough. They're not prepared to tolerate being separated any longer."

Care home deaths accounted for more than half of all deaths from the virus in Scotland at the height of the pandemic earlier in the year, before stringent restrictions were introduced to bring the situation under control.

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