New visiting guidelines introduced for nursing homes

New guidelines have come into effect today for visitors at nursing homes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the disease remains more suppressed in the community, the National Public Health Emergency Team has said that the gradual reintroduction of usual visiting should begin.

The visiting guidance has been set out by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and will remain under constant review.

Changes to previous guidelines include more flexibility around the number of visitors a resident can have, some visits by children being allowed with supervision, and the wearing of face coverings being asked of most visitors.

Guidelines for homes where there are no ongoing Covid-19 cases include:

  • Outdoor visiting will be encouraged subject to weather and the needs of the particular resident, but indoor visiting will be allowed with precautions.
  • Visitors will be checked for symptoms and undergo a temperature check, be asked about their previous known exposure to Covid-19, and guided in hand hygiene. Any visitors with fever or respiratory symptoms will not be admitted.
  • Visitors will now be required to wear a cloth face covering or surgical mask during their visit, however, there will be flexibility regarding the needs of the resident and visitor when they are a safe distance from others.
  • The number of visits for each resident every week will depend on the ability of the home to schedule them safely. Visits should generally be arranged in advance, and scheduled to avoid heavy footfall. Visitors to one resident will generally be limited to two at a time.
  • Visits by a child may be facilitated if the child is able to comply with the general requirements for visiting.
  • Visits will generally be limited to one hour.
  • Visitors will be asked not to use the home’s facilities.

There will be flexibility to most of the guidelines on compassionate grounds.

Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler welcomed the new guidance: “We must remember that residential settings are people’s homes as well as places where health and social care are provided. 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 [in] nursing homes and I am confident that nursing homes are preparing the way to allow for visiting in a safe way.”

The guidelines have been updated with the importance of visiting for residents and their rights in mind, along with a “lack of evidence” that managed visiting carries major risks.

In homes experiencing an active outbreak of Covid-19, visiting will generally remain suspended with exceptions for critical circumstances, such as the end of a resident's life.

Arrangements will be put in place to support virtual visiting by telephone or video-link.