I HAVE been moved to tears this week by footage of people being reunited with loved ones in care homes.

As visits started to resume, care home residents have been able to hold the hands of a relative or friend for the first time in months - some for the first time in a year.

Despite the rules - visitors are tested prior to visits, have to wear PPE and there’s no hugging or kissing - these emotional reunions mean the world to families across the country. Squeezing her mum’s hand, one woman sobbed as she said: “Just to be able to feel close...today is the best day.”

It is hard to imagine the pain of having your only contact with a loved one through a window, or sitting at a distance outdoors or in a pod. That has been the reality of the past 12 months for hundreds of thousands of people whose parents, spouses, grandparents and other relatives are in care homes. People like West End star Ruthie Henshall, who until this week hadn’t touched her mother, who has Alzheimer’s, for a year and feared she’d have to watch her die through a care home window.

Guidance for visitors has changed several times and visiting opportunities have varied across the country, in and out of lockdown. To finally hold the hand of someone you love dearly, who may have spent much of the past year confused and wondering where you are, must be a remarkable moment.

But along with the relief and joy there will be, for many people, sadness and regret at the time they have lost. Once dementia tightens its grip it can be a rapid decline, and time is precious. And even for those without this condition, it must have seemed particularly cruel to be denied in whatever time they have left the company and even the squeeze of a hand of family and friends.

While campaigners have welcomed the resumption of visits, some say the new guidance doesn’t go far enough and want the law changed so that visitors can’t be banned. The Care Quality Commission has said blanket visiting bans are “unacceptable” and warned that providers should not wait until the vaccination programme is complete before allowing visits.

There will be no emotional reunion for those whose relatives have died in care homes since March 2020. Many will have deteriorated in lockdown, lonely and confused. Ruthie Henshall said within a few months her mother went from being able to move about, talk and eat meals to sitting alone in her room.

If the rules introduced this week had been in place, couldn’t care home visits have been allowed earlier? This Mother’s Day will be, for many people, their first without a mother. And the pain of being denied a final visit, or a hand squeeze, with their mum will stay with them forever.

l I KNOW someone who works in a hospital and nothing sets her teeth on edge more than being called a ‘hero’. “We’re just doing our job. And we’d rather have adequate PPE than people banging pots and pans on a Thursday night,” she said in the first lockdown.

We have much to thank them for, the NHS staff who’ve spent the past year working exhausting, harrowing shifts at the frontline of the pandemic, but it’s patronising to assume that they’re saints who do their job because it’s a ‘calling’. They are working men and women who, like anyone else, have bills to pay.

The proposed 1per cent pay rise for nurses is a slap in the face, especially when the government has chucked millions of pounds elsewhere over the past 12 months - not least the furlough scheme, giving countless people a long holiday on 80per cent of their wages. This scheme should have been wound up ages ago, not extended.