The government has announced plans that would place a new legal duty on health and social care settings to allow family and friends visiting for the people using their services “in all circumstances”.
The Department of Health and Social Care is proposing fresh legislation that will protect visiting in all settings registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) including hospitals, care homes and mental health units.
“The shadow of visitor restrictions has continued for far too long in too many health and care settings”
It comes as the government warned there were still reported cases where visiting access was being unfairly denied despite the ending of most Covid-19 restrictions.
The proposed legislation aims to strengthen rules around visiting and provide the CQC with a clearer way of identifying where hospitals and care settings are not meeting the required standard.
The regulator will be able to enforce the new standards under the legislation, by issuing requirement or warning notices, imposing conditions, suspending a registration, or cancelling a registration.
Currently the CQC does have powers to clamp down on unethical visiting restrictions, but the expected standard of visiting is not specifically outlined in regulations.
The new legislation is also set to cover the rights of patients to be accompanied by someone to appointments in inpatient and outpatient, emergency departments and diagnostic services.
The Department of Health and Social Care has launched a consultation on the proposals to seek the views of patients, care home residents, their families, professionals and providers on the introduction of secondary legislation on visiting restrictions.
Challenges around visiting were highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic, when many health and care settings restricted and banned visits to try and stop the spread of the virus.
During this period, experts in nursing and infection prevention and control (IPC) warned against the use of IPC measures to stop safe and compassionate visits in care homes during the pandemic.
In 2020, an open letter was published in Nursing Times where these specialists warned that preventing people from visiting their loved ones was a misinterpretation of IPC principles.
Jules Storr, independent consultant and former Infection Prevention Society (IPS) president, who spearheaded the open letter at the time, told Nursing Times that the announcement today “has to be to be a positive development”.
She said: “The shadow of visitor restrictions has continued for far too long in too many health and care settings, with ongoing devastating consequences.
“Anything that puts an end to this, comes not a moment too soon.”
Ms Storr, who has a background in nursing, explained that IPC and compassionate care “are not and should never be mutually exclusive”.
She added: “IPC should be the enabler of safe and meaningful human interaction of the non-technological variety in all settings where care is delivered, including hospitals.”
Meanwhile, minister for care, Helen Whatley, explained that while many care homes and hospitals had made huge progress on visiting since the pandemic, she did not want people “to have to worry about visiting anymore”.
Ms Whatley added: “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.”
Minister for health, Will Quince, echoed this and 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.”
He added: “It’s important that people feedback 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 consultation closes at 11:59pm on 16 August 2023.