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Government to protect care home, hospital and hospice visiting 

by Kirsty Kirsty
  • Paper published today confirms intention to bolster visiting access
  • Plans recognise the importance of visiting for patients, care home residents and their loved ones
  • Care Quality Commission inspections will monitor if care providers are meeting visit obligations

Visits to see loved ones in care homes, hospitals and hospices will be better protected under plans announced by the government.

Changes will be made to the law so that visits are a fundamental standard of care, putting them on par with having access to food and drink and properly qualified staff. 

The Care Quality Commission will have a clear mandate to check that providers are meeting these obligations, so that those in care maintain vital connections with family and friends.

Minister for Care, Helen Whately, said:

“Spending time with loved ones makes all the difference to the wellbeing of people in care homes and hospices. Of course, keeping people safe from infections is important, but this is about striking the right balance.

“I know how painful it can be when you’re stopped from seeing someone who means everything to you, especially when you don’t know how much time they have left. It’s something I don’t want anyone to have to go through again. That’s why we’re changing the law to recognise just how much visiting matters.”

Visiting was restricted at the height of the pandemic to prevent the spread of Covid and keep people safe, but as restrictions eased the guidance for visiting in hospital and care settings changed accordingly.

The majority of settings adhered to the guidance but there have been reports of people being denied access to family members and loved ones, so the government has acted to make sure expectations around visits are clear to providers.

Minister for Health and Secondary Care, Andrew Stephenson, said:

“Being able to visit a loved one or go with them to an outpatient appointment can make a huge difference and there should be no reason to deny either the visitor or patient the joy or reassurance of that face-to-face connection.

“Most settings quickly accommodated visiting again once we came out of the worst of the pandemic, but we need everyone to do so, which is why we’re putting a clear system in place to make sure care homes, hospitals and hospices are giving visiting the importance it deserves.”

The plans announced today have been set out in the Department of Health and Social Care’s response to ‘Visiting in care homes, hospitals, and hospices’ consultation.

This consultation proposed introducing visiting as a new fundamental standard in the CQC regulations, and today’s response confirms that secondary legislation will take that forward. 

This will provide the Care Quality Commission with a clear direction to identify a visiting breach by a healthcare setting and apply more pressure to providers who may not be following government visiting guidance. 

Hilda Hayo, CEO of Dementia UK and Chief Admiral Nurse:

“During the pandemic, limits to visiting rights impacted people living with dementia who weren’t able to see their loved ones. We hope that the introduction of legislation designed to protect visiting rights and maintain meaningful contact will limit the harm that isolation can cause.

“As these proposals are put in place, we hope that the new rights are accompanied by safe processes and protocols around visits in all health and social care settings, as well as clear communication with families and carers.”

These changes will not only cover inpatients, they will also take into account the need to enable patients attending hospice and hospital outpatient appointments, emergency department and diagnostic services to be accompanied by someone if they need or wish to be.

The government will take steps to lay regulations as soon as possible.

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