Nursing home residents will be permitted to have two visits a week on compassionate grounds from March 22nd as care facilities benefit from the rollout of Covid-19 vaccination programme.
The National Public Health Emergency Team gave their approval on Thursday to permit long-term care facility residents to have the two weekly visits which can each last more than one hour.
The visits will be possible two weeks after full vaccination where 80 per cent of all residents and healthcare workers in the care home have been vaccinated.
The new guidance will take effect on March 22nd to allow time for making arrangements and planning for the implementation of the new recommendations, the Department of Health has said.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the new guidance expands on the scope of visiting on "general compassionate grounds."
“Meaningful contact with family and friends is important at all times which is why these additional grounds will be facilitated,” he said.
“Compassionate grounds could be, for example, to see a family member or friend as prolonged absence is causing upset or for personal reasons, to make financial or other arrangements or to advocate on their behalf.”
Nphet met on Thursday to consider the changes to the visiting arrangements for nursing homes now that the residents and staff across nursing homes have been almost fully vaccinated.
The State's deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said earlier this week that he hoped there would be a "vaccine bonus" for those who have been vaccinated.
Mr Donnelly said that the new guidance shows the type of benefits that arise from the implementation of the vaccine programme.
“I hope that these modifications in the application of the public health protective measures reinforce the real hope that the vaccines are bringing us and continue the journey towards a more normal lived experience,” he said.
Tadhg Daly, chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, the group that represents private nursing home owners, welcomed the recommended changes but urged caution due to the ongoing threat of infection and transmission of Covid-19.
“It is an important step in resuming in-person visits,” he said.
“We need to move incrementally. Obviously the vaccine programme has been hugely effective and impactful which is welcome but we still have to be vigilant. We still require infection prevention and control measures.”
Since the third wave of the pandemic struck over Christmas, nursing homes have been limited to compassionate visits for end-of-life circumstances or other critical needs of residents.
The department said that critical and compassionate visits could include situations where a resident expresses a strong need to see someone for person reasons or where a person nominated by the resident is concerned that a prolonged absence is causing upset or harm to a resident.
It could also include circumstances where a resident is significantly distressed or disturbed or where there is “an exceptionally important life event” such as the death of a spouse or a birthday.
The HSE has said that the vaccination of adults aged 65 and over in long-term residential facilities was completed in the last week in February.
“Mop-up clinics” had been arranged in March for the small number of residents, who due to illness or Covid-19 outbreaks were unable to receive the vaccine in January or February.
Some 93,793 people in this first cohort to be vaccinated had received their first dose of the vaccine and, as of the week of March 8th, a total of 80,610 people had received their second dose, leaving 14 per cent of people to receive their second dose.
The figures are contained in a reply to a parliamentary question tabled by Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd to Mr Donnelly