Sage Advocacy is appealing to operators of nursing homes to facilitate “meaningful, safe visits” for nursing home residents and their loved ones in the run up to Christmas, following a sharp rise in complaints from family members about time limits imposed on visits.
The national organisation which provides a support and advocacy service for vulnerable adults, older people and healthcare patients, said members of its Nursing Home Residents – Family Forum have provided feedback on widespread variations in how the latest HPSC guidance on visiting has been interpreted by nursing home operators throughout the country.
Sarah Lennon, Executive Director, Sage Advocacy said: “We have consistently advocated for the right of nursing home residents and their families to enjoy safe visits, particularly now as we approach Christmas and during the Christmas holidays.
“The current guidance states that nursing home and residential care residents may receive one visit by one person per week and that visits should be limited to one hour.
“The visit does not need to be by the same person each week and nursing home and residential care residents may have an extra visit during the Christmas and New Year period. It is also important to remember that window visiting is always allowed.
“But we are aware that some families are very frustrated because they are having major issues both in relation to visits with their loved ones being limited, in some cases to just 15 minutes and securing additional visits over the Christmas period. We would appeal to nursing home operators to be compassionate at this time and to show understanding to both families and nursing home residents who have been unable to spend any significant period of quality time together this year because of Covid-19.”
Ms Lennon said many families will also be deeply disappointed by confirmation from the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Mary Butler TD, that nursing home residents have been advised not to leave their nursing homes as in previous years to spend a period of time celebrating Christmas and the New Year with their respective families in their own homes.
In a response to parliamentary questions tabled by Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd, Minister of State Health Mary Butler, said: “An external visit to a private home over Christmas will usually mean meeting quite a few people and it won't be possible to be sure that everyone who comes to the house has been checked for COVID-19 symptoms and is careful about social distancing.
“During this period, in order to mitigate the risk of ongoing transmission of COVID-19 and the risk COVID-19 may have on vulnerable persons, particularly those in high risk settings such as nursing homes, the overarching public health advice and policy in the context of the current level, Level 3, of the framework for restrictive measures is that residents should not undertake such external visits.”
Ms Lennon said that Sage Advocacy has received a great number of calls and inquiries from both Family Forum members and the public in general, about the position on nursing home residents temporarily leaving their nursing homes over the Christmas period to spend time with their families.
Ms Lennon said: “We know many residents and families will be simply devastated by this advice from Minister Butler because they have a tradition of celebrating Christmas together with loved ones outside of the nursing home environment.
“We have already heard from Family Forum members that they are heartbroken that they cannot set a special place at the table for loved ones, who are nursing home residents, on Christmas Day this year.”