Consultation launched to strengthen rules allowing care home and hospital visits

Care home residents and hospital patients will be able to have visitors in all circumstances under plans for new regulations aimed at stopping access to loved ones being unfairly denied.

New legislation proposed by the Government would make visiting a legal requirement for hospitals, care homes, mental health units and other health and care settings.

A consultation on the new rules has been launched, with care minister Helen Whately saying she is determined that no-one should face “unnecessary restrictions or even bans”.

Supporters of a new law have previously warned of the “dangerous hangover from Covid restrictions”, which saw visits severely curtailed during the pandemic amid efforts to stop the virus spreading.

The Government said it is aware of reported cases where visits are still being denied, despite guidance that all health and care settings should be allowing them.

Secondary legislation on visiting restrictions would strengthen rules around visiting, providing the Care Quality Commission (CQC) health watchdog with a clearer basis for identifying where hospitals and care homes are not meeting the required standard, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

As well as care home visits, regulations will be reviewed for health settings to allow patients to be accompanied by someone to hospital appointments.

Ms Whately said: “Many care homes and hospitals have made huge progress on visiting and recognising carers since the pandemic. But I don’t want anyone to have to worry about visiting any more, or to face unnecessary restrictions or even bans.

“I have listened to campaigners, who have been so courageous in telling their stories. I encourage everyone who cares about visiting to take this opportunity to have your say on our plans to legislate for visiting.”

Health minister Will Quince said: “Most hospitals and care homes facilitate visiting in line with guidance, but we still hear about settings that aren’t letting friends and families visit loved ones who are receiving treatment or care.

“We want everyone to have peace of mind that they won’t face unfair restrictions like this, so we want to make it easier for the CQC to identify when disproportionate restrictions and bans are put in place and strengthening the rules around visiting.

“It’s important that people feed back on the consultation; we want to make sure the legislation is right for everyone. If you’ve experienced unjust visiting bans, please share your experience.”

The department said that while the CQC has powers to clamp down on unethical visiting restrictions, the expected standard of visiting is not specifically outlined in regulations.

Current guidance from Government and the NHS states that care homes and hospitals in England are expected to facilitate visits in a risk-managed way, such as through the use of face coverings in the event of an outbreak or in the reduction of the number of visitors at one time.

The consultation runs until August 16.

A CQC spokesman said: “It is absolutely vital that people are able to spend time with the people that they love. During this consultation period we will continue to seek assurances from care home providers about how they are supporting visiting to happen and we are verifying this information when we go out and inspect.”

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