There are few if any grounds to suspend “window visits” and outdoor visiting at nursing homes to prevent spread of infection, states new health guidance on such visits.
The Health Service Executive’s advice on nursing home visits published this week sets out clear counsel on window and outdoor visits alongside the new relaxation of restrictions that allows up to two visits a week to vaccinated residents in nursing homes where there have been a high level of vaccinations.
Families of nursing home residents have raised concerns that not all care facilities have been permitting window or outdoor visits, according to Sage Advocacy, which represents older people.
Sarah Lennon, executive director of Sage, said window and outdoor visits have been permitted throughout the pandemic, yet families have had difficulties getting access at some care homes.
“We have had relatives tell us that they would drive by or walk by and that windows would be closed or the blinds would be closed frustrating the window visits,” she said.
The new guidance from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), published on Thursday night, states that window and outdoor visits should be facilitated under all lockdown levels.
Window visiting is regarded as “very low risk” and outdoor visiting “low risk”, it says.
“There are few if any circumstances in which suspension of ‘window visiting’ and outdoor visiting are justified on infection prevention and control grounds,” said the HPSC.
“The processes for facilitating window visiting and outdoor visiting and any limitations that apply should be communicated clearly to residents and relevant other persons.”
Nursing Homes Ireland chief executive Tadhg Daly, which represents private nursing homes, said window and outdoor visits were encouraged throughout the pandemic but that there may be local circumstances where it may not be possible or there may be an outbreak in a home.
“People are absolutely doing the best they can . . . working collaboratively to address a concern is the key here,” he said.
Ms Lennon said that Sage hoped that physical contact between two vaccinated people would be “the next step” in the relaxations for vaccinated nursing homes to help residents further once the issue of transmission of the virus between two inoculated people has been ruled out.
“Another vaccine bonus would be where we could to get to the point where both vaccinated people could have physical contact and could hug loved ones and hold hands,” she said.
“The social contact is very important.”
On the issue of vaccinated grandparents hugging grandchildren, Karina Butler, chairwoman of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, said that if transmission rates were low in the community, then it could be possible, noting that children have a lower risk of transmission.
However, Prof Butler told RTÉ: "Disappointingly, we seem to have stalled", referring to infection rates.
“We really need to drive those rates down further so we can get down to that point where we do feel comfortable about getting back towards that normality of interaction,” she said.