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The prospect of additional weekly visits by more friends and family will deliver a major boost to the wellbeing and mental health of nursing home residents across the country, Sage Advocacy has said.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has approved revised Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) COVID-19 Guidance on visits to long term residential care facilities including nursing homes.

The updated guidance, set to come into effect next month, will according to Sage Advocacy, be warmly welcomed by nursing home residents and their families.

From May 4, providing there is a high level of vaccination in a nursing home – which means approximately about 8 out of every 10 residents in the facility have been vaccinated – residents will be able to have four visits by two people each week.

 The updated guidance also highlights:

  • residents in long term residential care facilities have the right to have or refuse visitors,
  • if visitor and resident are both fully vaccinated they need not wear a mask or avoid contact when alone together,
  • the duration of the visit should be appropriate to the needs of the resident, as identified in their visiting plan,
  • where critical and compassionate grounds apply the duration and frequency of visiting should be as flexible as possible subject to the ability of the long term residential care facility to manage visiting safely,
  • visits by children, other than very young (pre-school) children, should be facilitated if the child is accompanied by an adult who takes responsibility for ensuring appropriate conduct and the child is able to comply with the general requirements for visiting,
  • in the context of a high level of vaccination among residents, organised outings for residents by bus or car should generally be facilitated with risk assessments in each case,
  • service providers should comply with the spirit of the guidance and facilitate visiting of residents as advised within their facilities to the greatest extent possible,
  • “window visiting” where a person stands outside and speaks to a person at safe distance through an open window or by telephone is very low risk and can be facilitated at all times,
  • outdoor visiting where safe distance can be maintained is low risk and can be facilitated at all times,
  • restrictions on visiting that are in excess of those outlined in the latest guidance (for example in the context of an outbreak) should be agreed with the local public health department, be clearly documented and communicated in engagements with HIQA.

(for further information see: Guidance on visits to RCF.pdf (hpsc.ie)

Sarah Lennon, Sage Advocacy’s Executive Director, said the increase in visits for residents will mark a welcome return to a more “normal daily routine”.

Ms Lennon said: “Residents and their families have told us that one of the most difficult aspects of living through Covid-19 has been the physical separation they have had to endure. We know from our work that visits are crucially important to the mental health and well being of residents and that a visit from a loved one can make all the difference to them, particularly if they have been feeling low or unwell.

“The importance of visits and the connection between residents and their families and friends cannot be overstated – in many cases it can literally be a lifeline for them and we know that Covid-19 cruelly robbed nursing home residents of that over the last year.

“We would urge nursing home providers to enthusiastically embrace the latest HSE visiting guidance from May 4, we know that residents and families are impatient to recover the time they have lost out on together and it is important that every effort is made to facilitate four safe visits every week for each resident.

“We fully appreciate that Covid-19 continues to pose a threat and that we must all continue to be vigilant, but nursing home residents and their families are looking forward to getting back to doing more of the things they love together.”

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