Is a banana as bad for type 2 diabetes as SIX spoons of sugar?

Is eating a banana the same as swallowing six teaspoons of sugar? It would seem intuitive to say no, of course not – a banana is a fruit, and sugar is, well, just sugar. But a while back I came across a set of detailed charts on Twitter that made this claim. And it wasn’t the usual clickbait.

It had been written by Dr David Unwin, a well-known GP at an NHS practice in Southport, Merseyside – who has advised Parliament on diabetes care and obesity. The charts were endorsed by NHS watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and have been backed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

It’s understandable then that Dr Unwin has been called one of the most influential GPs in Britain by doctors’ magazine Pulse. His diagrams, shared thousands of times across various social-media platforms, show a wide range of foods, from breakfast cereals and brown bread to potatoes and fruit and veg. Each is given a teaspoon-of-sugar count, to show that eating them is – in Dr Unwin’s words – ‘the same as’ eating that much pure sugar.

Barney Calman, pictured with former Olympic triple jumper Michelle Robinson ahead of testing the theory

The rationale is that, because carbohydrate in food is broken down into single sugar molecules during digestion, both food and ‘neat’ sugar have the same effect on blood sugar levels.

According to Dr Unwin, an average-sized banana is the equivalent to almost six teaspoons of sugar. A small 150g portion of basmati rice has the same effect on blood sugar as ten teaspoons of sugar – a whopping 40g. When this was posted on Twitter, the ex Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson, who recently published a book about his eight-stone weight loss thanks to a low-carb diet, commented: ‘That white rice one gets me every time. Why didn’t I know this 25 years ago!’

Indeed, it’s startling stuff, particularly for the 3.5 million Britons who, like Mr Watson, have type 2 diabetes. For them, high blood sugar over a lifetime means a raised risk of strokes, heart attacks, blindness, kidney failure, limb amputation and premature death.

It’s this group that Dr Unwin’s message is aimed at. He designed the graphs himself, based on his own research with colleagues, to simplify conversations about diet with patients.

‘If you have type 2 diabetes, sugar becomes a sort of metabolic poison,’ he said in a recent lecture. Dr Unwin points out that the ‘quality of diet’ is the most important thing, when it comes to healthy eating, whether it’s low-carb, low fat or otherwise. However scores of his patients have reversed their type 2 diabetes after following his low-carb advice and cutting down on sugar, starchy foods such as bread, potatoes and rice, and fruit such as bananas.

This is one of the charts used by Dr Unwin to support his theory about blood sugar levels

This is one of the charts used by Dr Unwin to support his theory about blood sugar levels 

Dr Unwin, who goes by the handle @lowcarbGP on Twitter, where he has almost 50,000 followers, says: ‘At an average of 30 months low-carb, 49 per cent of our patients have achieved drug-free type 2 diabetes remission – this is in 82 individuals.’

With the Government urging Britons to slim down, after obesity and diabetes were linked to the worst Covid-19 outcomes, low-carb advocates suggest the approach could offer hope.

But is it really the answer? Although proven to aid weight loss initially, studies show few people stick to low-carb plans in the long term.

A recent report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition concluded there was no difference between low and high carbohydrate diets when it came to weight loss beyond 12 months.

And despite high-level political approval, some experts robustly reject Dr Unwin’s statements about teaspoons of sugar, calling them misleading and unscientific.

When we asked NICE, in light of these findings, on what basis it had endorsed his infographics, it said it had decided to remove them from its website ‘as a precautionary measure… while we conduct our own assessment of the competing evidence claims’. It added: ‘In the meantime, we will ask Dr Unwin not to promote his resource using NICE’s endorsement.’

We spoke to some of Britain’s leading names in diabetes medicine and food science, who told us that carbohydrates, far from being ‘metabolic poison’, are essential for human life, and effectively demonising foods such as bananas, which contain lots of nutrients, raises the risk of deficiencies. And a growing body of evidence suggests some cause for concern: long-term low-carb diets may actually be associated with serious illness.

Those hidden sugar claims tested 

If current trends continue, within five years the number of diabetes sufferers in Britain will top five million, with most affected by type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity. The disease costs the NHS roughly £1.5 million every hour – ten per cent of its total budget – so politicians are keen to find new approaches to treatment.

Dr Unwin’s methods appear to have been a huge success: his practice reports it saves the NHS £48,000 in medication every year. But is what he says about carbohydrates right? I put his eye-catching claims about foods being ‘the same as’ teaspoons of sugar to the test. And what I discovered left me wondering why, exactly, health chiefs and politicians alike had lined up to back them.

With the help of Professor Gary Frost, Head of the Section for Nutrition Research at Imperial College London, and his team, I set about finding out what would happen to my blood sugar if I ate a banana and a portion of rice compared with the ‘equivalents’ – based on Dr Unwin’s diagrams – in pure sugar. A continuous blood glucose monitor – a stick-on patch worn on the upper arm or abdomen – would track my blood sugar level.

Each ‘challenge’ – consuming 120g of banana, the ‘equivalent’ 24g of sugar, 150g of basmati rice, and ‘equivalent’ 40g of sugar – was carried out on a different morning after I had fasted since dinner the night before. An empty stomach meant no other foods could have affected my readings.

I consumed exactly the same meal the night before each challenge and avoided strenuous exercise and alcohol, again, to make sure nothing distorted the result.

During each challenge, I moved around as little as possible for two hours as I digested the food, as physical activity ‘burns’ blood sugar.

With the Government urging Britons to slim down, after obesity and diabetes were linked to the worst Covid-19 outcomes, low-carb advocates suggest the approach could offer hope

With the Government urging Britons to slim down, after obesity and diabetes were linked to the worst Covid-19 outcomes, low-carb advocates suggest the approach could offer hope

As I’m not diabetic, I asked former Olympic triple-jumper Michelle Griffith-Robinson, 48, to do the experiment alongside me. In 2018, Michelle was diagnosed by her GP with prediabetes – abnormally raised blood sugar levels that indicate a person is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Now a lifestyle coach and personal trainer, living in Devon with her husband, former Welsh rugby player Matthew Robinson, and their three sporty children, Michelle says: ‘I was devastated. I was a small size 12, so not big – but having had three children, and being in my 40s, my weight had crept up a bit.’

Diabetes runs in her family, and Michelle, not wanting to follow the same fate, embarked on a strict low-carb diet.

In six months, she lost half a stone – and her blood sugar is now almost within the normal range.

‘I was strict,’ she explains. ‘I stopped eating rice, bread, potatoes and pasta, and upped my veg and protein, so I never went hungry. I was probably a bit too thin, almost a size eight for a while.’

‘Today, I’ve eased up a bit,’ she says. ‘I’ll have a portion of rice once a week, or a mouthful of pudding. It’s about moderation.

‘But I still worry about how much carbs will affect me. I don’t want to get diabetes – it just can’t happen.’

Once eaten, carbs can behave differently 

At the end of the week, we collected our results – seen on the graphs, far right. They show, clearly, that for both of us, eating a banana wasn’t the same as eating six teaspoons of sugar.

Nor was eating 150g of rice the same as consuming ten teaspoons of sugar. More glucose ended up in my blood when I consumed pure sugar than whole foods.

Michelle’s results were similar. None of this surprised the experts at Imperial: this experiment has been done before. What we ‘discovered’ is already well known to scientists.

So, how did Dr Unwin come up with his infographics? He has written that the teaspoon count is ‘a reinterpretation’ of something called glycaemic load – a scientific term to describe how much a serving of food affects blood glucose. Researchers have previously worked this out for a vast array of ingredients. Unwin says he simplified this by working out the equivalent in teaspoons of sugar to the glycaemic load of each food.

Carbohydrates are broken down at different rates in the digestive system

Carbohydrates are broken down at different rates in the digestive system 

Imperial College researcher Dr Katerina Petropoulou, who ran our study, says: ‘On paper, the calculation is correct. But it doesn’t take into account how food is digested and absorbed by the body.’

Prof Frost, a dietician who studies carbohydrates, says that to equate bananas or rice to teaspoons of sugar is ‘very misleading, and unscientific’. He says: ‘You can measure the amount of a nutrient in a food, but that doesn’t tell us how it will behave in the body.

‘Different types of carbohydrate are broken down at different rates by the digestive system.

‘That’s why you’d see a different blood glucose response if you ate the same amount of carbs in pasta and bread – because pasta has more hard-to-digest carbs.’

Some types of carbohydrate are indigestible. And cooking, cooling, then cooking foods such as potatoes, rice and pasta can turn digestible carbs into so-called resistant starch, which can’t be digested.

That impact of carbs varies hugely between individuals, and even in the same person, from day to day. Foods are often eaten in combination – bread with butter, for instance – which affects things further. Prof Frost adds: ‘Carbohydrates have been part of the human diet since the beginning of man – the body is well adapted to consuming them.’

Could low-carb diets raise risks?  

Low-carb diets have helped thousands lose weight, at least in the short term. The worry, explains dietician Douglas Twenefour, is that if potentially nutritious foods are labelled ‘the same as’ teaspoons of sugar, suggesting they should be avoided, means people risk missing out on essential nutrients.

Dr Unwin’s says his sugar graphs are intented to be used as a general guide, used in conjunction with other detailed diet advice, which he provides his patients.

Yet, in isolation, equating nutritious foods to pure sugar could be counterproductive, says Twenefour.

‘Four teaspoons of sugar will give you about 15g of carbs, the same as a medium apple. The apple provides vitamins and fibre, which are important for overall health.’ Mr Twenefour, an advisor to Diabetes UK and co-author of the recent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition report on low-carb diets added: ‘Implying all of these foods are “the same as” pure sugar is not only unhelpful – it’s also potentially dangerous. You are diverting patients away from nutritious foods. Besides, we all need carbs for energy,’ he says.

Last November, Professor Michael Lean, chair of human nutrition at the University of Glasgow, published findings suggesting low-carb diets may not be a good way to prevent diabetes. The research analysed food questionnaires from more than 12,000 volunteers to calculate their fat, protein, carbohydrate and other nutrient intakes.

Those with the lowest carb intake actually had higher blood sugar than those with normal carb intake. Those who had seemingly compensated for their low-carb intake by upping the fat in their diet, had the highest risk.

Low carb advocates claim glucose can be made by the body from proteins and fat

Low carb advocates claim glucose can be made by the body from proteins and fat

This change, they said, could have affected the way the body processed sugar, leading to higher levels in the blood. Other studies have found low-carb diets are associated with a range of life-shortening illnesses, such as heart disease.

‘It’s hard to unpick why this might be,’ admits Prof Frost. ‘Some of it will undoubtedly be increased fat intake, and reduced fibre. It is possible to eat a balanced, yet low-carb diet, but it’s not easy. In practice when people cut out carbs they eat less healthily.’

Some low-carb advocates claim that we don’t need carbs and the body can make glucose, needed for energy, from proteins and fat.

Prof Frost agrees this is technically true, but warns: ‘The body has the capacity to make glucose in this way to supply vital organs such as the brain in times of starvation. But this is a short-term survival pathway. We have no idea of the long-term health consequences.’

Cut the calories, not the carbs 

When we contacted Dr Unwin, and put the concerns of other experts to him, he said: ‘It’s the quality of the diet, whether low-carb, or low fat, that is most important.’ He explained that a properly formulated low-carb diet could be healthy, and pointed out that NHS advice to diabetics encourages ‘low-glycaemic index [slow-burn] sources of carbohydrate in the diet.’ He added: ‘The American Diabetes Association this January concluded that reducing overall carbohydrate intake for individuals with diabetes has demonstrated the most evidence for improving blood sugar.’

Dr Unwin says the low-carb approach to type 2 diabetes treatment is evidence based and was the main method used before effective drugs were invented.

While agreeing it is true, diabetes control before drugs did rely on avoiding carbs, Prof Frost makes the point that: ‘Patients’ quality of life was horrendous. They suffered ill health, and died rapidly.’ By far the biggest cause of death in diabetics, today, is heart disease, he adds: ‘To avoid heart disease, being a healthy weight and having a diet that’s lower in saturated fat is best, not low-carb but high fat.’

Professor Partha Kar, NHS England’s chief diabetes expert, argues that the only scientifically proven way to get type 2 diabetes under control, with diet, is to shed excess pounds: ‘The evidence, as far as trials go, sits with low calorie diets,’ he said.

Dr Unwin’s patients undoubtedly lost weight. This will be, Prof Kar says, because they were consuming fewer calories than they burned – not specifically because they’d cut out carbs. And it’s because they lost weight that their type 2 diabetes went into remission.

‘Some low-carb evangelists say it’s all about sugar, but this isn’t backed up by science,’ he adds.

While people on low-carb diets can shift weight fast and reduce blood sugar, the benefits rarely last after 12 months

While people on low-carb diets can shift weight fast and reduce blood sugar, the benefits rarely last after 12 months

So does sugar become a poison to type 2 diabetics? ‘That’s not supported by the evidence,’ answers Prof Kar.

All the professors agree that low-carb diets show no long-term advantage over other weight- loss methods.

While people on low-carb diets can shift weight fast and reduce blood sugar, the benefits rarely last after 12 months. Most people on a low-carb diet end up eating more carbs than those on other types of diet, according to studies. ‘Individual doctors may have success with helping their patients stick to a low-carb diet, but that’s not what we see when we look at the bigger picture,’ says Prof Frost.

Despite the concerns about long-term low-carb diets, Prof Lean adds that in the short term, any risk would be outweighed by the benefits of weight loss. ‘If patients say they want to go low-carb, we support them. But these diets are no better than any other,’ he says.

As for those contemplating a low-carb diet in the long term, he adds: ‘Every bodily cell depends on getting glucose. Low-carb is not a natural way for humans to eat. Luckily, most soon give it up.’

Prof Naveed Sattar, an obesity expert at the University of Glasgow agrees, saying: ‘Instead of low-carb, we advise patients to make small changes like cutting out sugary drinks, not putting sugar in coffee or tea, or always having a salad with a meal.’

Prof Sattar points out that eating fruit and vegetables is well known to reduce the risk of a wide range of illnesses, including type 2 diabetes. He adds: ‘Yes, lots of refined sugar is bad, and by all means have smaller portions of potatoes, but to say eating a banana is the same as eating pure sugar is just rubbish.’

Dr Unwin says: ‘Sixteen randomised controlled trials, with an average duration of nine months, compare low-carb diets to low-fat diets for people living with type 2 diabetes, the majority of which confirm the low-carb diet to be superior.

‘The low carbohydrate approach to type 2 diabetes now has growing worldwide support. My teaspoon of sugar infographics are based on research by Dr Geoffrey Livesey, an international expert on carbohydrates, and were published in a peer reviewed journal.

‘Last year our infographics were shortlisted for a prize by NICE, and they remain endorsed by them to this day. I have positive feedback from hundreds of doctors worldwide who have found them to be very useful and effective. They are a general guide to eating less sugar and refined starchy carbs while consuming more green veg. I believe, given a choice, people with type 2 diabetes should avoid not just sugar but the starchy carbs that digest down into surprisingly large amounts of sugar, as I illustrate in my infographics.

‘If diabetes is about weight not dietary sugar, why is it that every drug for diabetes finds a way to get rid of excess sugar? Perhaps it is sugar you would have been better not to eat in the first place?’

Michelle, meanwhile, is adding more carbs into her diet. ‘I noticed, while wearing the glucose monitor for a week, I often had very low blood sugar. I’m probably not eating enough. And I wasn’t getting my fibre intake right, even though I was eating loads of green veg. It’s about finding that balance – and I’m getting there, I hope.’

Boris Johnson to seize powers from NHS England and hand them to Matt Hancock

Boris Johnson to seize powers from NHS England and hand them to Matt Hancock in bid for more control over the health service

  • Ministers are planning to overhaul the NHS amid coronavirus crisis frustrations
  • They want to ‘clip the wings’ of NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens
  • There has been anger among ministers at the role of Stevens during the crisis 

Boris Johnson is planning a radical overhaul of the NHS amid government frustration at the role of the health service’s chief executive Simon Stevens during the coronavirus pandemic, it has been claimed. 

To do so, the PM has set up a new taskforce to come up with plans for ministers to regain more direct control over the NHS, after ceding it in 2012, and ‘clip the wings’ of Stevens. 

The taskforce is made up of senior civil servants and advisers from Downing Street, the Treasury and the Department of Health and social care.  

There has been government frustration, particularly on the part of Health Secretary Matt Hancock, at Stevens’ role during the battle against coronavirus. 

The restructuring intends to make Stevens more accountable for how he runs the service, while ensuring power is transferred to the Department of Health.  

They are also reported to be frustrated at worsening NHS waiting times and the poor state of finances. 

Boris Johnson has set up a new taskforce to come up with plans for ministers to regain more direct control over the NHS

It comes amid government frustration at the role of the health service's chief executive Simon Stevens during the coronavirus pandemic

It comes amid government frustration at the role of the health service’s chief executive Simon Stevens during the coronavirus pandemic

A source told the Guardian: ‘The options put forward to the prime minister will be about how the government can curb the powers of NHS England and increase the health secretary’s ‘powers of direction’ over it, so that he doesn’t have to try to persuade Simon Stevens to do something. 

‘Matt Hancock is frustrated [by] how limited his powers are and wants to get some of that back.’

Ministers are keen to ‘clip Simon Stevens’ wings’, sources said, with the Treasury particularly irritated at treatment waiting times continuing to worsen and many hospitals remain unable to balance their budgets, despite record funding.

Dominic Cummings is not a member of the taskforce but William Warr, the Prime Minister’s health adviser, is.  

The taskforce’s creation follows tension between NHS England and the government amid the pandemic on issues such as the testing of patients and NHS staff, and shortages of personal protective equipment. 

Sources close to the health secretary say he believes that Stevens has been ‘invisible’ and unhelpful during the pandemic and is not accountable enough. 

Amid the proposed changes, ministers could abolish the foundation trusts introduced by Tony Blair to give the Department of Health more control over the day-to-day running of the NHS. 

There are also proposals to look at turning integrated care systems, currently voluntary groups of NHS bodies, into legal entities with budgets of billions. 

There has been government frustration, particularly on the part of Health Secretary Matt Hancock, at Stevens' role during the battle against coronavirus

There has been government frustration, particularly on the part of Health Secretary Matt Hancock, at Stevens’ role during the battle against coronavirus

This would add dozens of powerful new bodies into the NHS which will be tasked with tackling staff shortages and managing finances.  

In the summer, the taskforce will present the prime minister with a set of detailed options to achieve to limit Stevens’ influence, which will be followed by a parliamentary bill.

However, the proposed restriction have led to alarm from some experts who think it could destabilise the NHS.  

Richard Murray, the chief executive of the King’s Fund thinktank, said: ‘Any large-scale reorganisation of the NHS comes at a high price as they distract and disrupt the service and risk paralysing the system.’ 

The proposed NHS overhaul comes amid plans for other reforms, including to universities and the military.  

Women in early thirties could soon have eggs frozen on NHS

Women in their early thirties could freeze their eggs on the NHS, Matt Hancock has suggested.

The Health Secretary said he was ‘instinctively open’ to the idea of the Government funding egg-freezing for women aged between 30 and 35.

Campaigners say this would enable more women to delay having a family to focus on their career, or to find the right partner.

It could also prove cheaper for the NHS in the long run by allowing women to ‘bank’ higher quality eggs in their early thirties. 

Pictured: Stock photo of a Liquid Nitrogen Tank, used for storing frozen eggs. The Health Secretary said he was ‘instinctively open’ to the idea of the Government funding egg-freezing for women aged between 30 and 35

This would improve success rates when the same women later opt for publicly funded IVF treatments because fertility declines dramatically with age.

Asked about the calls, Mr Hancock said: ‘I hadn’t heard of this but I’m instinctively open to it and can see the benefits.

‘In this area I want the Government to be highly pragmatic. 

‘It’s not an idea that I’ve ever come across before, but I’m open to it.’ 

Freezing allows women to store their eggs at a younger age so they can be used in IVF when they are ready to start a family.

Figures released last week revealed that rates of egg-freezing cycles performed for women in the UK have more than tripled in five years, from 569 in 2013 to 1,933 in 2018. 

The private procedure costs between £3,000 and £5,000 a time and up to £400 a year to store them.

Egg-freezing is not currently available on the NHS unless women are having medical treatment for conditions which could affect their fertility, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer. 

It is up to individual hospital trusts to decide whether or not to offer egg-freezing.

In a webchat with AllBright, a members club for women, Mr Hancock also said that he hoped flexible and remote working would become more common after the pandemic to allow more women to juggle childcare and careers.

He said: ‘I definitely think it should be the norm where possible… There’s a big argument that productivity has gone up during this when people are working from home, certainly in terms of wellbeing – we need to persuade people that allowing flexible working should continue. 

‘This is a change that is never going to go away.’

He added: ‘My hope is the shift to more flexible working on average benefits women more than men… as women do tend to have more childcare responsibilities and that is one of the main beneficiaries of more flexible remote working.’

Pictured: Stock photo of a Liquid Nitrogen Bank containing sperm and egg samples. It is up to individual hospital trusts to decide whether or not to offer egg-freezing

Pictured: Stock photo of a Liquid Nitrogen Bank containing sperm and egg samples. It is up to individual hospital trusts to decide whether or not to offer egg-freezing

Mr Hancock, who has three young children, acknowledged that he does not share housework equally with his wife Martha.

He said: ‘I’m incredibly grateful to be able to not have as much of the mental load. 

‘I definitely don’t do 50/50. 

‘I mean I do my bit, but I don’t and can’t do 50/50 and thank god Martha is totally wonderful in looking after the children and looking after me and it’s really tough.’

The Health Secretary also said that he hoped more fathers will now be allowed to attend baby scans after visitors were banned during the pandemic. 

Many women have had to attend maternity appointments, or even give birth, without their partners present.

Mr Hancock, who has three young children, acknowledged that he does not share housework equally with his wife Martha (pictured at the Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year Awards in 2018)

Mr Hancock, who has three young children, acknowledged that he does not share housework equally with his wife Martha (pictured at the Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year Awards in 2018)

‘Attending a baby scan has now been made flexible so hospitals can make the choice,’ he said. 

‘Staying after the birth, how long you can stay for is for local discretion.

‘We have a tight visitors policy in hospitals at the moment to ensure we don’t have infection in hospitals, but it is something that we’re constantly reviewing.’

Asked how he would have handled the pandemic differently with hindsight, Mr Hancock said the Government had ‘made a mistake’ by issuing guidance restricting the number of guests at funerals.

He said: ‘We put out social distancing guidance, which was really strongly interpreted, and it meant that in the peak of the pandemic, lots of people didn’t go to the funeral even of someone they’ve been married to for 50 years.

‘And there was a little boy from south London who was buried without his parents there, and that really affected me. 

‘So, we realised we’d made a mistake and we changed the guidance.’

Matt Hancock says ban on care home visits will be lifted ‘in the coming days’

Families can look forward to reunions with elderly relatives after Matt Hancock said the ban on care home visits could be lifted ‘in the coming days’.

Now the daily deaths have fizzled out, there is the promise of care home closures ‘coming to an end very soon’ the Health Secretary said. 

The details on how care homes in England can operate safe Covid-secure visits will be rolled out soon, almost four months after doors were shut to visitors.

But care home bosses have claimed to be ‘left in the dark’ about when and how they can re-open.

Care homes have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic as the infection swept through the elderly residents. There have been at least 20,000 deaths across the UK.  

Charities have said the restriction on family visits has had ‘damaging consequences’ on the health of residents with dementia.  

The Health Secretary said the ban on care home visits could be lifted in the ‘coming days’

He told ITV News on Thursday: ‘People are yearning to see their loved  ones and the residents of care homes get so much from visitors.

‘It’s been a very, very long period and that period where there hasn’t been any visiting to care homes, that’s coming to an end very soon.

‘I very much hope that in the next few days we’ll be able to make this change. We’ve been very careful about it and we’ve got to get it right.

‘We’ve got to make sure it works for each local area but I hope we can make that change very soon.’ 

CARE HOMES SAY THEY HAVE BEEN ‘LEFT IN THE DARK’

As England has cautiously moved out of lockdown since May 10, care homes say they have been left in the dark about when they can do the same.

Care England, which represents most of the independent providers, says new guidance in England is essential – and it is ‘not right to keep people with care and support needs locked down indefinitely’.

Writing on Twitter, it said: ‘We are at a loss to know why @DHSCgovuk [Department of Health] is incapable of making swift decisions at a time of crisis. 

‘As the country unlocks, care providers are in the dark as to what is permissible in terms of visitors to their residents, or indeed residents leaving their homes on visits.’

‘Visitor guidance should have been a priority for @DHSCgovuk given that care homes are central to fighting this dreadful pandemic – says @ProfMartinGreen.’

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said the sector was told that guidance from the department for visiting older people in care homes was ‘on its way’ a month ago. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in response the decision to loosen rules on care home shutdowns, he said: ‘We need some clear guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care and in fact we’ve been waiting for that for over a month.’   

Mr Hancock suggested there wouldn’t be reunions for all the 400,000 or so care home residents in England because assessing the risk would come down to local infection rates. 

Care homes in Scotland that are virus-free are already allowing visits from relatives. Northern Ireland will follow similar rules from Monday, while Wales has allowed visits since June 1, providing they take place socially distanced and outside. 

In response to the news, Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said a ‘balance’ needed to be struck between allowing family visits and protecting care home residents from further coronavirus outbreaks.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Families are a really important part of care delivery but at the same time you have to be really, really cautious because, as people know, care homes have been really badly affected during this pandemic. 

‘People living in care homes are probably at the highest risk, so if there is an outbreak of Covid-19, it has serious and very tragic consequences so I think we have to balance the need for people to engage with their relatives and families but also we have a responsibility for the protection and safety of the people in care homes. 

‘I think treating people as key workers, making sure there is regular testing available – also with some new tests that might be available shortly which are going to be much quicker to get results, that may also help.’

It comes as charities have warned the limits on visits to care home residents with dementia has had ‘damaging consequences’.

In a letter to the health secretary, they write that the care given by family members is ‘essential’ to residents’ mental and physical health, and should be seen as a key worker in the sense of having access to care homes and regular Covid-19 testing, the BBC reports.

Bosses from Dementia UK, Alzheimer’s Society and other leading charities called on the government to ‘urgently’ address what it calls the ‘hidden catastrophe’ happening in care homes. 

Many care homes across the country stopped visits from friends and family a week or more before the lockdown came into place in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.  

The elderly are most vulnerable to severe Covid-19 infection and death, and so the signs of potential devastation were clear from an early stage.

However, the coronavirus still battered the care sector due to a number of faults, the largest of which was discharge of hospital patients to care homes.

On 19 March, NHS guidance said that patients must not be in a hospital bed unless required in a move to free up beds for coronavirus patients.

Mr Hancock – and many other ministers before him – claim people were discharged on an individual assessment basis and often hospital is a risky place for a frail person to be. 

But a negative coronavirus test was not needed to allow transfers or admissions into the care home, guidance on April 2 said.

This was prior to and during the peak of the coronavirus crisis in UK, when thousands of people were being diagnosed in the community and hospitals every day. 

From 15 April, the government said that all patients discharged from hospitals would be tested for coronavirus after an uproar.

By this date, over 28,116 elderly patients had been moved from hospitals to care homes in England.

There are no official statistics to show how many cases of coronavirus were brought into care homes via this route, but Chris Hopson, head of hospital representative body NHS Providers, said claims ‘a very small number of asymptomatic Covid-19 patients’ were discharged to social care.

Asymptotic people, or ‘silent carriers’, are those who have the virus but are not showing symptoms. 

They were unlikely to have had a test during the Covid crisis because tests were only offered to those with symptoms until the end of April. 

It was also problematic that elderly people are more likely to show atypical symptoms, and therefore may not appear to have the virus. 

The Government insists it and other leaders globally were unaware that the virus could spread asymptomatically.  

Elderly care home residents MUST be allowed see their families to prevent a ‘hidden catastrophe’

Treat family of dementia patients like key workers: Charities call for relatives to get regular Covid tests so they can see vulnerable care home residents and prevent a ‘hidden catastrophe’

  • Seven charities, including Alzheimer’s Society, have written to Matt Hancock
  • Their letter urges the Health Secretary to allow more family to visit care homes 
  • They believe social isolation has hastened deterioration in dementia patients

Relatives of dementia patients in care homes should be treated as key workers and be given regular coronavirus tests to help prevent a ‘hidden catastrophe’, charities say.

Dementia UK and the Alzheimer’s Society are among those who have written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, in which they say care provided by family members is ‘essential’ to the mental and physical health of residents. 

Visitors have been banned from care homes since mid-March and experts are increasingly concerned that this has had tragic consequences for some residents.

The letter calls on the Government to allow one designated family member to visit their loved one in a care home and to undergo regular testing for the virus, with charities fearing social isolation has hastened the deterioration and death of some dementia patients.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will be setting out further details ‘shortly’ on how it can ‘carefully and safely’ allow visiting in care homes, the BBC reports. 

Family members must be allowed back into care homes to prevent a ‘hidden catastrophe’, leading dementia charities have warned (stock photo)

Figures from the Office for National Statistics earlier this month revealed that twice as many people with dementia had died since the start of the pandemic compared with previous years, including many without the virus. 

The charities suspect that a significant proportion of the deaths were brought about by a lack of care and emotional support from loved ones, with patients left confused and anxious.

The Alzheimer’s Society has received hundreds of calls to its helpline from relatives who say their loved ones have gone downhill very quickly with some believing they have just ‘given up’.

While care homes in Scotland have allowed residents to see one visitor outside since the start of July, there has been no easing of the restrictions in England.

Seven charities, including the Alzheimer’s Society, are urging the Health Secretary Matt Hancock to ease the restrictions to allow one designated relative to go into a home and see their loved one

Seven charities, including the Alzheimer’s Society, are urging the Health Secretary Matt Hancock to ease the restrictions to allow one designated relative to go into a home and see their loved one

The letter, whose signatories also include Alzheimer’s Research, Dementia UK and John’s Campaign, states: ‘A hidden catastrophe is unfolding in care homes. 

‘The friends and relatives unable to visit for the last three months weren’t just bringing flowers and a hug. 

‘Every day they were brushing the teeth of a loved one with dementia who wouldn’t let anyone else near, bringing the food their loved one can no longer articulate they want, acting as their voice and memory, keeping them tethered to the world. 

‘It is no exaggeration to say they were keeping them alive.’

The letter, whose signatories also include Alzheimer’s Research, Dementia UK and John’s Campaign, states: ‘A hidden catastrophe is unfolding in care homes' (stock photo)

The letter, whose signatories also include Alzheimer’s Research, Dementia UK and John’s Campaign, states: ‘A hidden catastrophe is unfolding in care homes’ (stock photo)

The letter calls on the Government to allow one designated family member to visit their loved one in a care home and to undergo regular testing for the virus.

Fiona Carragher of the Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘In the midst of the debate on lockdown easing, one voice has been lacking – that of people in care homes.

‘We hear every day from families, confused and frustrated about why there’s been no guidance from the Government, and terrified their loved one with dementia won’t know why they’ve not come to visit. 

‘Many have told us they worry they’ve seen their relatives for the last time.’