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Law change to make care home and hospital visits ‘fundamental standard of care’

Visits were curtailed during the pandemic amid efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19 (Jeff Moore/PA)
Visits were curtailed during the pandemic amid efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19 (Jeff Moore/PA)

Changes will be made to the law to protect visiting rights around care homes, hospitals and hospices, the Government has said.

Visits will become a fundamental standard of care, on par with having access to food and drink and properly qualified staff, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

A consultation was launched in the summer on bringing in new rules, in the wake of visits having been curtailed during the pandemic amid efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Care minister Helen Whately said a balance must be struck as she spoke of the importance of visiting rights (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)
Care minister Helen Whately said a balance must be struck as she spoke of the importance of visiting rights (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)

Supporters of a new law have previously warned of the “dangerous hangover from Covid restrictions”.

Care minister Helen Whately said a balance must be struck between keeping people safe and ensuring families could spend time together.

She said: “Spending time with loved ones makes all the difference to the well-being of people in care homes and hospices.

“Of course, keeping people safe from infections is important, but this is about striking the right balance.

“I know how painful it can be when you’re stopped from seeing someone who means everything to you, especially when you don’t know how much time they have left.

“It’s something I don’t want anyone to have to go through again. That’s why we’re changing the law to recognise just how much visiting matters.”

The department said health watchdog the Care Quality Commission would be given a “clear mandate” to check that providers were meeting obligations on visiting, including identifying any breaches and applying more pressure to healthcare settings that did not follow guidance.

No specific timeline has been given for the changes, with the department saying the Government “will take steps to lay regulations as soon as possible”.

The changes would also take into account the right of patients attending hospice and hospital outpatient appointments, emergency department and diagnostic services to be accompanied by someone if they wanted to.

Hilda Hayo, chief executive of Dementia UK, said she hoped “that the introduction of legislation designed to protect visiting rights and maintain meaningful contact will limit the harm that isolation can cause” to people.

She added: “As these proposals are put in place, we hope that the new rights are accompanied by safe processes and protocols around visits in all health and social care settings, as well as clear communication with families and carers.”