New laws are needed to allow face to face visits in England’s care homes, according to a cross-party group of MPs and peers.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has written to the health secretary warning people are being “denied meaningful visits” contrary to their right to family life.
Chair of the committee, Harriet Harman says people need reassurance “they are still loved as part of the family.”
Ministers say safe visits can go ahead.
There is anger among relatives that many care homes have imposed blanket bans on all visits except at the end of life.
All face to face visits were banned during the first national lockdown in March 2020 when coronavirus swept through care homes.
Restrictions remained in place for eight months with families forced to speak to their loved ones through windows or doorways.
New guidance issued by the Department for Health in November suggested floor to ceiling plastic screens and garden pods could be used instead if there were no outbreaks in a care setting and relatives tested negative for the virus.
But the committee is concerned that care settings are nervous about new fast-spreading variants of Covid-19, and many are not allowing visits, despite the easing of restrictions.
Harriet Harman says the committee heard from relatives whose legal right to a family life has been violated by blanket bans on visits during long lockdowns.
She says they spoke of the “immense difficulties” of being separated from loved ones and the huge personal cost for thousands of elderly and disabled people denied close contact visits.
Speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio Four, she said: “It’s really important people don’t feel that they have been abandoned, that they are reassured they are still loved as part of the family.”
The committee says new legislation is needed to make individual risk assessments compulsory.
In their letter to the health secretary, the committee said new procedures were needed “so that such assessments can be queried where they have omitted relevant factors or not made adequate efforts to consider how Covid-safe visits might best be facilitated”.
The government says it is looking at what it can do to enable indoor visiting to start again.
A spokesman said: “We know visits to care homes are crucial in supporting the health and wellbeing of residents, which is why we have updated guidance to ensure visits can continue to take place safely during periods of national lockdown.
“The government is looking to ensure that a wider range of visiting arrangements are made available for care home residents when it is safe to do so.”