The government has recommended new legislation that would make it a legal right for people in care homes and hospitals to have visitors ‘in all circumstances’.
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.
Health and care settings should be allowing visits, according to the current guidance from the Government and NHS England currently in place, however, there have been reports of cases where visiting access is being unfairly denied.
As a result, the Government is seeking views from patients, care home residents, their families, professionals and providers on the introduction of secondary legislation on visiting restrictions.
During the pandemic, care homes and many other care settings placed restrictions on visiting or even banned visitation to reduce the transmission of Covid-19, resulting in a backlash and subsequent High Court challenge.
Between December 1 2021 and February 10 2022 the Care Quality Commission (CQC) received visiting concerns regarding 189 services, 82 of which were alleged to have implemented blanket bans.
While the CQC does have powers to clamp down on ‘unethical visiting restrictions’, the ‘expected standard of visiting is not specifically outlined in regulations’, the government said.
Since the abatement of Covid-19 restrictions and the widespread vaccination of elderly patients, guidance from both the NHS and government is that care homes are ‘expected to facilitate visits in a risk-managed way’.
While many services had ‘made efforts to return to pre-pandemic visiting’, the government recognised that there were ‘still instances’ where relatives continued to ‘face issues’.
Under the proposed new rules, care homes, hospitals, mental health units and other health and care settings regulated by the CQC would all have a legal duty to ensure that residents and patients are able to have visitors.
Minister for Care, Helen Whately, said, ‘I know how important visiting is for someone in hospital or living in a care home, and for their families. I know from my own experience too – I know what it feels like to be told you can’t see your mum in hospital. That’s why I’m so determined to make sure we change the law on visiting.
‘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.’
Will Quince, minister of health, said that the proposed new law would ‘make it easier for the CQC to identify when disproportionate restrictions and bans are put in place and strengthen the rules around visiting’.
If passed, the law would give the CQC powers to enforce visiting standards by issuing requirement or warning notices, imposing conditions, suspending a registration, or cancelling a registration.
The legislation is currently open for consultation which closes at 11:59pm on 16 August 2023.
Mr Quince added that it was ‘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,’ he said.
Patricia Mecinska, Assistant Director of Patient Experience at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said, ‘At King’s, our teams recognise the invaluable contribution that friends, carers and loved ones make to the patients under our care, including supporting us to provide care that’s respectful of our patients’ needs, so enabling them to make a positive recovery. Plans to involve care supporters in a more formalised way will be welcomed by many patients and will aid us in delivering our vision of providing outstanding care to patients and communities.
‘The hospital visiting guidance also includes an expectation that patients can be accompanied to hospital appointments when needed.
‘With the new legislation, the CQC will be able to enforce the standards by issuing requirement or warning notices, imposing conditions, suspending a registration or cancelling a registration.’