In Brief

Coronavirus: when hospital visitors are allowed

NHS clarifies exceptions for family and carers of vulnerable patients

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a near blanket ban on hospital visits across the country, but there are some exceptions to the rule.

NHS England has published a list of circumstances in which relatives might be allowed to visit their loved ones.

What is the current situation?

Last Wednesday, NHS England announced: “Visiting is suspended with immediate effect and until further notice.”

However, it also listed several “exceptional circumstances” where one visitor – who must be an immediate family member or carer – will be permitted to visit. These are:

  • The patient you wish to visit is receiving end-of-life care.
  • You are the birthing partner accompanying a woman in labour.
  • You are a parent or appropriate adult visiting your child.
  • You are supporting someone with a mental health issue such as dementia, a learning disability or autism, where not being present would cause the patient to be distressed.

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The guidelines say potential visitors should “contact the ward or department in advance to discuss appropriate arrangements”.

“Your health, safety and wellbeing, that of our patients, communities and individuals and teams across the organisation remain our absolute priority,” the statement reads. “Please find other ways of keeping in touch with your loved ones in hospital, like phone and video calls.”

What is behind the decision?

The decision to limit visitors in hospitals was taken to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus, protecting vulnerable people receiving care as well as NHS workers.

According to the Health Service Journal, advocacy group John’s Campaign welcomed the national guidance on exceptions and said hospitals had been “too often making the assumption that a blanket ban was the safest course of action”.

The group said there had until now been an “unwillingness in some trusts to acknowledge the rights of people with these special needs and secondly the basic unfairness of different arrangements being in place in neighbouring trusts”.

The guidelines appear to have been brought in to alleviate fears that coronavirus patients are dying alone in hospital wards, their families having been prevented from visiting them.

But Dr Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, told Sky News this week: “There have been reports that patients have been dying alone and I would like to reassure the public that no person will die in hospital alone.

“They may not have their loved ones next to them, but they will have healthcare workers – both doctors and nurses – and other members of staff by their side holding their hands and making sure that they are not alone when they die.”

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