All health and social care facilities in Northern Ireland should move to facilitate one face-to-face visit per week by one person, Health Minister Robin Swann has stated.
The province-wide guidance applies to hospital and care homes as well as other facilities.
It has been drawn up to protect patients, residents and staff from Covid-19 – while recognising the importance of human contact to health and well-being.
Health Trusts and care homes will implement more localised and tighter restrictions in the event of outbreaks.
The Minster said: “I fully recognise how difficult and upsetting it is for people in care homes and hospitals not to see their loved ones.
“The new guidance seeks to take a balanced approach – recognising the growing Covid-19 threat and the importance of family contacts.
“I don’t want to see doors being fully closed to visiting at this time – providing there is no outbreak in the facility.
“Please strictly follow all the public health guidance when visiting. Do not visit if you are feeling unwell yourself and make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before and after.”
The visiting guidance will be kept under ongoing review.
Every effort should continue to be made to enable other forms of visiting to ensure residents and patients maintain important social connections – eg through the use of technology.
Additional advice on compassionate visits – for instance for those receiving end of life and palliative care – should be facilitated. These arrangements will have to be agreed in advance with the ward or care home.
In Hospices, one visitor for one hour daily is recommended where the environment is Covid-19 secure.
In maternity services – one partner will be able to accompany the pregnant woman to dating scan, anomaly scan, early pregnancy clinic, fetal medicine appointments and when the woman is in active labour (to be defined by midwife). Visits in antenatal and postnatal wards will be for one person for up to one hour once a week.
In augmented care areas of burns, renal and cancer services, this should be permitted in Covid-19 secure environments. This means maintaining social distance of up to 2m, attending to hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene, good ventilation and appropriate use of PPE and wearing face covering.
Further specific provisions in areas like neonatal and paediatrics are detailed in the new visiting guidance document and supporting materials.
Care homes are encouraged to develop the concept of care partners. Care partners will be more than a visitor.
Care partners will have previously provided an essential element of maintaining their relative’s physical and mental health, and/or provided specific support and assistance to ensure that communication or other health and social care needs are met due to a pre-existing condition. Without this input a resident is likely to experience significant and/or continued distress.
Care partners will need to be designated and agree to a number of measures, which may be specific to the individual care home and its visiting policy. There may be two designated care partners sharing this role, one at a time, across the week.