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New guidelines, published by the HPSC on visiting nursing homes, which clearly outline that visiting “is an essential part” of promoting meaningful contact between residents and their loved ones, provide clear direction to nursing home providers, Sage Advocacy has said.

The national organisation, which supports and advocates for vulnerable adults, older people and healthcare patients, said the latest HPSC update on visiting long term residential care facilities also highlights to providers that they have a “regulatory obligation” to ensure residents have “meaningful contact” with the people who are important to them.

The guidelines, (see here: Normalising visiting in LTRCF.pdf (hpsc.ie)  which come into effect on November 15, also detail for the first time that visitors will be asked to produce their EU Digital COVID Certificate or HSE COVID-19 Vaccination Record or other proof of immunity before entering a nursing homes to visit a family member or loved one.

There is also a requirement for exemptions to this requirement to be made by nursing home providers on compassionate grounds.

The HPSC has stressed that the right of the resident to see someone who they wish to see is central to the application of exemptions on compassionate grounds.

Sarah Lennon, Executive Director of Sage Advocacy, said visits from friends and family are vitally important for nursing home residents’ health, well being and quality of life. 

Ms Lennon said: “Throughout the pandemic we have provided support and advocacy services to nursing home residents and their families through our Nursing Home Residents – Family Forum and visiting has consistently been one of the key issues that families and nursing home residents have contacted us about.

“The latest guidelines emphasizes that residents in nursing homes and other residential care facilities have a right to maintain meaningful relationships with people who are important to them, and we would urge nursing home providers to adhere to these guidelines.

“We know from our advocacy work that some nursing home residents and their families continue to experience issues in relation to how some nursing home providers are facilitating visiting – some are restricting to specific times when residents can see their families or also operating booking systems which can disadvantage some family members who may have work commitments.

“These latest set of guidelines stress that any restrictions on visiting should be the “minimum necessary” to manage the risk of Covid-19 and that restrictions on visiting should be agreed with the local public health department, be clearly documented and be communicated to residents.”

Sage Advocacy said although the guidelines provide clear direction to nursing home providers, the fact remains that it is open to nursing home providers to interpret these guidelines because they are under no regulatory obligation to observe them.

Ms Lennon said: “We know from our advocacy work and through Sage Advocacy’s Nursing Home Residents - Family Forum that there are numerous examples of nursing home providers who have not adhered to the HPSC guidelines on visiting previously.

“If because of Covid-19, there will be no return to the previous open door visiting policy at many nursing homes then Sage Advocacy believes the Government must move legally to protect the right of nursing home residents to have visitors.

“If new regulations can be enacted at speed when it comes to nightclubs then why can new regulations not also be employed to protect the rights of this country’s 32,000 nursing home residents”.

According to Sage Advocacy although the vaccine booster programme is under way in nursing homes the increase in Covid-19 outbreaks and confirmed cases in nursing homes has been a concern recently for both residents and their families.

Ms Lennon said: “Members of Sage Advocacy’s Nursing Home Residents - Family Forum have told us they are fearful that if confirmed outbreaks continue to rise then some nursing home providers may re-introduce visiting restrictions.

“This latest HPSC guidance acknowledges that in the event of a confirmed outbreak of Covid-19 nursing home providers may need to “decline” indoor visitors, other than on critical or compassionate grounds, if specifically advised to do so by Public Health.

“However, it is important to note that the guidelines also state that when the situation has been evaluated by the outbreak control team and measures to control spread of infection are in place, visiting should be facilitated by the nursing home provider to the greatest extent practical and restrictions on visiting should be reviewed at least every 2 weeks.”

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