NOTHING has ever broken my heart quite like visiting my mum in a care home. She was in her early sixties when she first went into one, and over the next decade she spent short spells in nursing homes two or three times a year, for respite care.

If you have ever cared for someone with dementia, you will know that the strain can be overwhelming. So when Mum was in the safe hands of professionals it gave our family peace of mind, and a much-needed break from the mental and physical exhaustion of caring for her at home.

But it broke my heart every time I went to see her in a care home, because my once vibrant mum whose smile lit up a room, who loved life and could turn her hand to anything, was now a glassy-eyed shell of a woman slumped in a chair in a strange room. She didn’t know where she was, what day it was, or even who I was. And she was too young to be in a place I associated with frail elderly folk.

I often drove away from those visits in tears, bereft at the waste and sadness of it all. But what never failed to impress me was the care she received in those homes. Eventually we found the right one for her specialist needs, and she went there several times over her final years. I have never forgotten the friendly staff bustling about her room; gently holding a cup to her mouth, brushing her hair, sitting her up comfortably and singing along with her to the radio. They chatted to her, even though she’d long since lost the ability to speak. When we told them she used to be a teacher they gave her a room overlooking a neighbouring primary school, so she could hear children in the playground.

It was their attention to detail that I noticed, but also the demanding, physical, often unpleasant round-the-clock work they did. It’s a job that most of us say we couldn’t do, a job that is often underpaid and taken for granted, yet at some point in life we may well need someone to do that job for us.

Care homes often come under scrutiny, and don’t always come out of it well. But over recent months care home staff have gone way beyond the extra mile to protect those most vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic. Some care workers have left their families at home to move in with residents, putting their own health at risk. There have been reports of staff sleeping in stock rooms. They have been warriors; keeping this virus at bay, as much as they possibly could, from places where it has the highest risk. And along the way, in much more challenging circumstances than most other people work in, they’ve taken on a family role for those in their care who were denied visits from their real families.

We owe much to care home workers in this crisis. So Boris Johnson’s rather casual suggestion that “too many” care homes didn’t properly follow procedures is a kick in the teeth. As care sector leaders point out, care homes have been dealing with an extraordinary amount of different, often conflicting, guidance coming from the Government on an almost daily basis, as well as poor PPE support, so it’s no surprise that they find this remark “hugely insulting”.

I don’t share the knee-jerk blame for the Government in all areas of this pandemic, because it’s a crisis like no other, and I don’t think anyone could’ve handled it perfectly. But I do think the Prime Minister should apologise to care homes for his comment. And I hope he will reflect on the sacrifices made by care staff during this crisis, and take long-awaited action to adequately fund the adult care sector that so many of us have or will come to rely on.