Nursing home visits are set to return closer to normal within 10 days with no need to schedule visits and no limit in duration.
Visiting restrictions in nursing homes should be eased on July 19th, according to new guidance issued by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).
The recommendations, published on Friday and due to come into effect on Monday week, suggest that nursing homes return to normalised visiting as quickly as possible.
Routine visiting does not need to be scheduled in advance, and a list of nominated visitors is no longer necessary, the updated guidelines say.
The duration of visits should not be limited, and the frequency of visits should also increase.
The HPSC also recommends that residents should face fewer restrictions in relation to outings or visits outside of the nursing home.
However, the guidance says no more than two visitors at any one time should be allowed. It is also noted that where there is an open Covid-19 outbreak, limitations on visiting may be required.
The changes were made on the basis of the high numbers of residents and staff being fully vaccinated.
A minimum of four visits a week is now possible in nursing homes where eight out of every 10 residents are vaccinated.
The guidance also recommends that care providers develop an individualised visiting plan for each resident, and in circumstances surrounding end of life or important life events, the resident’s visits should not be limited.
The Department of Health said nursing homes should continue to follow general public health advice as well as infection prevention and control measures.
“This is particularly important in the context of the increasing prevalence of the more transmissible Delta variant,” the department said in a statement.
“This new variant poses a significant risk, in particular to those who are not yet fully protected through vaccination. Visitors are reminded of their responsibilities with regard to self-checks for Covid-19 in advance of visits, infection and prevention control and social interaction with all individuals, while in the nursing home.”
Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler said nursing home staff, residents and their friends and families had made huge sacrifices over the past 16 months.
“People living in nursing homes and other residential care facilities have a right to maintain meaningful relationships with people who are important to them. Visiting is an essential part of that right.
“I expect that all nursing home providers will facilitate visiting, to the greatest extent possible, in line with the new guidance, and communicate early with residents and families on a clear plan towards more normalised visiting.”
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said this positive change in visiting restrictions was due to the benefits of the vaccine programme.
“We have been living with this pandemic for 16 months now, and there is no doubt that it has been and continues to be a difficult experience, and one that has acutely impacted those living in nursing homes.”
Sage Advocacy, which supports vulnerable adults, older people and healthcare patients, said the new guidance was an important development. "We know from our work how important visiting is to the health and wellbeing of residents."