Two sisters blocked from visiting their terminally ill father in hospital say the lockdown is breaching basic human rights and they want clearer guidelines.

The Ministry of Health says hospital visitation rules during the Covid-19 crisis is up to individual district health boards.

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It comes as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the Government would not make a decision about whether to move out of alert level 4 until April 20.

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The Herald is aware of at least four cases where sick or dying elderly hospital patients or rest home residents are unable to be visited by family.

In one of the cases, the family of dying Aucklander John Parkes described the heartbreak at not being able to hold their grandfather's hand in Middlemore Hospital, with visits reduced to one person for 15 minutes per day at the foot of his bed.

In another situation, a 79-year-old rest home resident with mild Alzheimers and bowel cancer is no longer allowed to visit his wife of 58 years at their family home.

The woman, who did not want to be named out of fear the rest home would stop her daily phone call to her husband, cannot walk.

"Last time I spoke to him he asked me if I was his wife and what was my name. I think he can't picture me because he isn't seeing me."

Sisters Tania and Kim Barker were not allowed a support person for their 94-year-old, terminally ill father Ken Barker at Palmerston North Hospital last week.

The pair complained to MidCentral District Health Board chief executive Kathryn Cook who told them in a letter that to minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19 the decision to restrict patient visits had been established at all district health boards.

The Ministry of Health said that decision was up to each individual DHB.

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Barker, who had melanoma, was discharged on Monday via ambulance to the women's home on the Kāpiti Coast, and died on Wednesday morning.

The sisters questioned how many other elderly, sick or dying people were not allowed family support through visiting.

"I think it really negatively impacted the care Dad got," Tania said.

"He was incredibly weak, very thin when he came home."

Barker was admitted to hospital for infection 10 days earlier and Tania said he became confused and refused some food and treatment he needed.

Ken Barker when he was well. His daughter's Tania and Kim managed to get their dad home from hospital before he died but say lockdown rules need changing. Photo / Supplied
Ken Barker when he was well. His daughter's Tania and Kim managed to get their dad home from hospital before he died but say lockdown rules need changing. Photo / Supplied

The sisters were able to convince him to get the treatment which included draining two litres of fluid from his lungs.

Tania, her father's main caregiver for the past 14 years, said it raised issues of informed consent.

"If he had not had a couple of very assertive daughters in the wings, he would not have been treated, and his outcome could have been very different."

She was relieved he did not die in hospital, alone.

"I just think that more compassion and kindness should be shown to the elderly who are dependent on their caregivers, and very vulnerable.

"It is not simply a matter of kindness, it is a matter of discrimination, questionable medical ethics, and compromised treatment and care."

Ken Barker when he was well. His daughter's Tania and Kim managed to get their dad home from hospital before he died but say lockdown rules need changing. Photo / Supplied
Ken Barker when he was well. His daughter's Tania and Kim managed to get their dad home from hospital before he died but say lockdown rules need changing. Photo / Supplied

She wanted the lockdown guidelines changed to allow for one support person to be with an elderly or dying patient, hospice or rest home resident.

The Ministry of Health said visits to family members in aged residential care ended on March 27.

"Where residents are receiving palliative care, visits will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

"Under alert level 4, visits to facilities should only be in emergency or compassionate situations, at the discretion of the facility."

Health Minister David Clark said he understood how distressing the situation was but that the restrictions were necessary. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Health Minister David Clark said he understood how distressing the situation was but that the restrictions were necessary. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Minister of Health David Clark said he had received correspondence on the issue.

In a statement the day after he confessed to having driven his family to the beach on the first weekend of lockdown, Clark said the restrictions would help keep residents, their families, staff and the wider community safe.

"I understand how deeply distressing they are, particularly where people are in palliative care," he said.

"In those cases it is best that visits are considered on a case-by-case basis and that these very difficult decisions strike a balance between the immediate circumstance and the safety of everyone involved."

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said it was important people most at risk if exposed to the virus were appropriately protected, including older people in rest homes and those with health conditions.

There had been two Covid-19 outbreaks at rest homes in the North and South Islands, including 14 mostly staff infected at a home near Hamilton.

Tesoriero said measures to protect rest home residents and staff from exposure must be transparent, legal and proportionate to the level of risk.

"There are steps that can be taken to reduce loneliness or feelings of isolation, and to reassure families that their loved one is safe."

Where non-essential visits were restricted she said residential homes for disabled people and aged care facilities should look at other ways to maintain social connections and contact.

"Decision-makers in aged care facilities must keep in mind the rights of the people they care for, and provide people with the ability to take charge of their own affairs to the greatest extent possible.

"Any decisions regarding restricted access or closing of essential services should also be communicated to residents, so they understand the reasons behind the decisions, and are able to participate in decisions about their own wellbeing and safety."

They must also have information about avenues open to them if they disagree with a decision or action taken, she said.

Tesoriero said the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers Rights still applied in an emergency.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website