A councillor has made a heartfelt plea for health chiefs to ease coronavirus restrictions and allow relatives to visit their loved ones in care homes. 

Cllr Lisa Rutter warned people are “dying of heartbreak” after being left unable to see vulnerable people with dementia and other conditions due to measures designed to stop the spread of Covid-19. 

A council report discussed at a meeting of the health overview and scrutiny committee on Monday revealed there had been 95 deaths in Barnet care settings since March 12, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. 

During the past six weeks, there were 29 Covid-19 cases recorded in the borough’s care homes – most of them asymptomatic, the report added. An analysis of separate data published on Tuesday showed cases in Barnet as a whole increased sharply compared to the previous week. 

READ MORE: Barnet in top ten London boroughs with highest Covid infection rate 

But Cllr Rutter told the meeting the report did not mention the mental health issues that can result when people are separated from their loved ones for long periods. 

Cllr Rutter (Conservative, Brunswick park) said: “I chair a carers’ meeting every week, and carers have reported to me the devastating effect this is having mentally to the family members not being able to have the vital contact with their loved one, and vice versa, because if the resident has some mental capacity, that resident will also be missing their family member. People are dying of heartbreak.” 

She added that garden visits and video calls are fine as long as those in care homes understand the need for social distancing. But for others – such as those with advanced dementia – the only way they can respond is by holding hands. 

Cllr Rutter suggested that if care workers are able to return home, go shopping and spend time with their families, one family member should be able to visit their loved one in “exceptional cases” – as long as they are regularly tested for Covid-19 and wear a face mask and protective gear.  

She added that Health Secretary Matt Hancock had told her that visiting in care homes is the decision of the care home manager and the borough’s director of public health. 

Dr Tamara Djuretic, director of public health for Barnet Council, said: “My statutory responsibility is to stop the spread of infection and to stop people dying from Covid, and during the first phase of the pandemic we had a number of care settings in which the virus was circulating.  

“Unfortunately, a number of people died as a result of that. What we are trying to do is put everything in place to prevent this happening again.” 

Dr Djuretic said care homes that had closed had probably experienced a coronavirus case. When this happens, health chiefs ask care homes to close for 14 days because they do not know who could have been exposed to the virus – and bringing other people in at that point “would just introduce another risk for the spread of infection”. 

She acknowledged it had been hard for everyone but said there was a “very fine balancing act” between protecting people from Covid and their overall mental health and wellbeing. 

A London-wide group is currently drawing up recommendations for longer-term policies on care home visits, which would be “under very strict social distancing guidelines”, Dr Djuretic added. 

Cllr Rutter accused heath officials of not listening to her and repeated her plea to allow visits in homes that have no infections.

In response, Dr Djuretic said she had listened but was “not comfortable to make any exceptions at this moment in time”. 

She added: “I’m not aware that any care home setting in Barnet has been closed since March, but if that is the case, please let me know individually which setting that is and we will take it at that level.”