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Families losing loved ones to coronavirus will get “the right to say goodbye”, health secretary Matt Hancock has said.
The cabinet minister said the chance to make contact with loved ones a final time would be rolled out “wherever possible”.
It comes as many are left distraught that they are unable to see those severely ill in care homes and hospitals due to the risk of infection.
Speaking at the Downing Street press briefing on Wednesday, he said “wanting to be with someone you love at the end of their life is one of the deepest human instincts” but that “coronavirus had made this much more difficult”.
He said: “I’m pleased to say that, working with Public Health England, the care sector and many others, we are introducing new procedures so we can limit the risk of infection while, wherever possible, giving people’s closest loved ones the chance to say goodbye.”
The minister also said that he wept at reports of 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab dying from the disease without a parent at his bedside.
“I have been really moved and upset at some of the heartbreaking stories of people dying without a loved one nearby,” he said.
“As the father of a 13-year-old myself, the reports of Ismail dying aged 13 without a parent at his bedside made me weep, and the sight of his coffin being lowered into a grave without a family member present was too awful.”
Hancock also said the government was making “crystal clear” that it is unacceptable for advanced care plans – including do not resuscitate orders – to be applied in a blanket fashion to any group of people.
“This must always be a personalised process, as it always has been,” he said.
Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, meanwhile said he believes the UK is “probably” reaching the peak of the outbreak.
He said that deaths may continue to rise later this week, however, adding: “At the moment we are not yet at the point where we can say confidently and safely: ‘This is now past the peak and we can start thinking very much about the next phases.’”
In a separate development and amid much criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis in care homes, Hancock said a supply network of “unprecedented scale” would help get personal protective equipment (PPE) to the sector’s frontline staff.
He also announced a new “single brand” with a badge for care workers, which he said may help them access similar perks to NHS staff.
“This badge will be a badge of honour in a very real sense, allowing social care staff proudly and publicly to identify themselves, just like NHS staff do with that famous blue and white logo.
“I know that many businesses will want to offer the same recognition and benefits as they do wonderfully to the NHS.”
Supermarkets had been asked to give the same priority access to care workers as NHS staff, he said.