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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Health Minister announces removal of all visiting restrictions in health & care settings

The Department of Health has published its latest visiting guidance for hospitals and hospices which outlines the removal of all significant restrictions.  

The new guidance on visiting arrangements, Enabling Safer Visiting, which was developed in partnership with the Public Health Agency (PHA), will take effect from 31 October.  The new guidance broadly sets out a return to normal visiting arrangements that were in place prior to COVID-19.

Health Minister Robin Swann said:

“I am acutely aware of how valuable visiting is to both patients and loved ones and I am pleased to announce this updated approach to visiting. This new guidance should see visiting return to the more normalised arrangements that we would have been used to pre-pandemic.”

Chief Nursing Officer Maria McIlgorm said:

“This updated guidance is a very positive step. However, we recognise that given the nature of COVID-19, and the possibility of other equally challenging new infections, it’s vital that provisions remain in place should they be needed. This guidance therefore defines a set of principles to assist in the management of visiting arrangements in most circumstances.

“Any significant visiting restrictions introduced should be clear as to who the measures are protecting and what will be needed to allow a return to normal visiting arrangements as swiftly as possible.”

Minister Swann concluded:

“Our ability to make this step is testament to the ongoing efforts of our staff to provide safe effective care, so once again I wish to thank them all for the great work they undertake daily.”

Infection prevention and control measures will remain in place across all settings, this includes hand hygiene and use of face coverings.

The Department's previous Covid-19 visiting guidance for hospitals (incl. Maternity) and hospices, “Pathway to Enhanced Visiting” was published in May 2021.  With this guidance by now having been in place for almost 17 months, the Department, in co-operation with Public Health professionals in the Public Health Agency (PHA), and in consultation with our 5 Health & Social Care Trusts (HSCTs) has developed and today published an updated approach to visiting in these settings, entitled ‘Enabling Safer Visiting'

Enabling Safer Visiting' replaces the previous guidance, setting out a new, updated approach to visiting in hospices and hospitals - including Maternity and other services. The updated guidance document outlines the expected approach to visiting as we move past the worst stage of the pandemic management process.  It will take effect on 31 October 2022. 

In all cases, visiting in exceptional circumstances, including end of life, should continue to be facilitated, while adhering to the responsibilities outlined in the guidance.

Local settings have always had scope to manage their visiting arrangements. Under the new guidance visiting should be facilitated in some form, even during outbreaks but based on informed consent. The guidance also makes provision for a risk assessed decision-making process to allow local ward managers to make decisions to protect the most vulnerable. Any such restrictions would need to be risk-assessed, taking account not only of the risks of infection, but also the detrimental impact of restrictions.  


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