Nursing homes no longer restricting visitor numbers under new guidelines

New HPSC guidance for residential care facilities will also allow children visit in some cases

Visitors who do not adhere to guidance will be asked to leave and may be declined access subsequently if there is a pattern of non-adherence. File photograph: iStock

Visitors who do not adhere to guidance will be asked to leave and may be declined access subsequently if there is a pattern of non-adherence. File photograph: iStock

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Nursing homes and other residential care settings will no longer have to restrict the number of nominated visitors for residents and children will now be allowed to visit in some cases, under new guidance which came into effect on Wednesday.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) guidelines, which apply to acute mental health facilities and community housing units for people with disabilities as well as nursing homes outline a number of changes to visiting restrictions to residential care facilities.

The guidance states that the duration of the visits may be limited to an hour with some flexibility on compassionate grounds in exceptional circumstances.

The document also recommends that visits during an outbreak should be facilitated if the situation permits.

During an ongoing outbreak of Covid-19 within a residential facility, visits will generally “be suspended in the first instance” with the exception of the most critical circumstances, such as end of life, the HPSC said.

However, when the situation has been evaluated and control measures are in place, visits that are essential will be facilitated and if the outbreak is confined to one wing or one building on a campus there may be less requirement for visiting restrictions in other areas.

The guidance also recommends the removal of the requirement to limit the number of people nominated as visitors for residents. This had been limited to two people.

The recommended number of visitors at any one time is two, but there can be some flexibility around this number, particularly in the case of children, the guidance added.

Some visits by children will now be facilitated with appropriate supervision. Previously, most facilities requested that children did not visit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The registered provider/person in charge has a responsibility to ensure that the autonomy of residents and the right to have visitors is balanced with the need to ensure that visitations do not compromise overall resident care or adherence to requisite infection control procedures,” the guidance states.

“Visitors who do not adhere to guidance will be asked to leave and may be declined access subsequently if there is a pattern of non-adherence.”

Mary Butler, Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, welcomed the publication of the latest visiting guidance for nursing homes.

“I’ve listened to the views of many families and I recognise that the impact of Covid-19 on society in general and especially those living in nursing homes has been considerable. We must remember that residential settings are people’s homes as well as places where health and social care are provided,” she said.

“The introduction of physical distancing, isolation and restricted contact with family and loved ones has changed the usual dynamic of social interaction. I understand the need to protect residents, staff and visitors to nursing homes and I am confident that nursing homes are preparing the way to allow for visiting in a safe way.”

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