A North Ayrshire widow has given testimony to the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry over the lack of access her family received to her ill husband during the pandemic. 

The family, from West Kilbride, didn't see their loved one with dementia for 17 weeks.

Alina Duncan told the inquiry that Jim, a well-known Largs businessman, was only 55 when he was diagnosed with a rare form of dementia in 2008.

He was taken into full-time care in 2016 at a North Ayrshire care home. Mrs Duncan and family members used to visit Jim every day up to three times, depending on his health. 

Mrs Duncan gave up her job to care for Jim from 2008-2016, and then became involved as a carer herself during lockdown in a different capacity.

Jim sadly died on August 25, 2022, at the age of 70.

Pre-pandemic, Mrs Duncan said that the initial experience at the nursing home was very good.

But things changed drastically throughout the pandemic due to restrictions placed on visiting as well as the care home ownership changing hands. 

Mrs Duncan told the enquiry that on March 19, 2020, a member of care home staff management told her that she couldn't see Jim any more.

She said: "How did that work? To this day I still don't understand it. I went a total of around 17 weeks without being able to see my husband.

"I was a carer going to see people in up to 20 houses with daily testing and full PPE on and all the precautions, so why was I not allowed to see my husband?"

Mrs Duncan stated that iPads, Facetime and phone calls were of no use to Jim because of his condition and the care home did understand this.

She said: "I phoned every day to see how Jim was and the reply I got back was that he was fine.

"What does fine mean? It didn't tell me anything purposeful about his skin, or whether he had eaten his dinner."

Mrs Duncan said she "put her foot down" over being told that Jim had to stay in his bedroom and could not visit the lounge area.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Alina Duncan at the Scottish Covid19 inquiryAlina Duncan at the Scottish Covid19 inquiry (Image: Covid19 inquiry)

She said: "I told them absolutely not - he couldn't be stuck in his bed all the time as that would have affected his mobility, he needed a walk. 

"I was told his care plan would be changed to reflect this."

Mrs Duncan told the inquiry that the Scottish government regularly announced guidance changes in terms of Covid-19 access on a Friday lunchtime but too often office staff or management had finished up for the day or were working from home and therefore weren't aware of the relaxation of the strict guidelines.

She said: "He would smile if he was told we would be coming to visit. You could turn the corner you could see he could hear my voice and smiled."

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Jim DuncanJim Duncan (Image: Newsquest)

Mrs Duncan became a designated visitor and had access to Covid-19 testing though her own role as a carer.

She also raised concerns with management about her husband's posture, and eventually became bedbound to prevent him from having a bad fall.

Mrs Duncan told the inquiry that the care home office "made me feel like a criminal" for wanting to see Jim and was told on one occasion that she couldn't go in to feed her husband as "every other family would want to do it".

When she arranged for Jim's GP, who was also a family friend, to visit him during the Covid restrictions, she received an angry call from care home management.

But she was unrepentant and raised lack of communication about her husband's health as a mitigating factor.

In a statement made to the inquiry, Mrs Duncan said: "I don't feel the isolation came about because of the restrictions was appropriate or proportionate; and I would not have allowed it.

"If I could go into people' homes with the correct protection mechanisms in place, and was fully tested and had all the correct PPE, and care home staff could go and meet their families, why could I not meet my husband?"

Before his diagnosis, Jim was very active. He raised more than £150,000 for people with multiple sclerosis to set up a hyperbaric chamber in West Kilbride, receiving an MBE from the Queen for his charitable endeavours.

Up until 2015, Jim worked with his brother and father at Hasties department store in Largs, which was well known in community.

Largs and Millport Weekly News:

Jim and Alina have two sons and a daughter Louise Duncan, the professional golfer who won the Scottish Amateur Open in 2021.

The Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry has been set up to establish the facts and learn the lessons of the strategic devolved response to the pandemic in Scotland. 

The Inquiry is independent of government and is working in an open and transparent manner to establish the facts and identify any lessons that should be learned so Scotland is better prepared in future.