The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has confirmed new Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) COVID-19 Guidance on visitations to Long Term Residential Care Facilities which will be implemented from 22 March.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact across society, especially for older people. It is recognised that the necessary public health protective measures, such as the need to reduce social contacts, has effects on social, psychological and emotional well-being.
The availability of vaccines brings great hope and will play a critical role in protecting the population, especially those most at risk such as older people, against COVID-19. The advanced stage of the vaccination rollout in nursing homes provides an opportunity for cautious incremental changes in some public health measures, including on visiting.
The new visitation guidance incorporates early learning from the positive impact of the vaccine rollout nationally and internationally and will provide enhanced opportunity for visiting in nursing homes across all levels of the Government’s Plan “COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021 – The Path Ahead”.
While the guidance in place had provided for visiting on critical and compassionate grounds, this new guidance now expands the scope of visiting on general compassionate grounds. It also refines the guidance across Levels 1 to 5, which now provides for increased visiting at Levels 3, 4 and 5, subject to risk assessment and no open outbreak.
Residents may be facilitated to receive two visits per week on general compassionate grounds. This will be possible following two weeks after full vaccination of approximately 8 out of 10 of all residents and healthcare workers in the nursing home. There is no requirement to limit visits to less than one hour. This is an increase from the current guidance where one visit per resident is facilitated every two weeks.
To allow time for making arrangements and planning for the implementation of the guidance, the new guidance comes into effect from 22 March 2021.
At all times vigilance on the general infection prevention measures must be maintained. The guidance will be kept under continuing review as new evidence and data emerges.
Following the approval of the new guidance, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said: “We all know the direct impact that COVID-19 has had on older people, especially those in nursing homes, and the sad loss of life experienced at home and internationally from the virus. The virus has also had indirect consequences, such as the loss of those important social connections and engagements with loved ones.
“While the previous guidance had provided for visiting on critical and compassionate grounds this new guidance now expands the scope of visiting on general compassionate grounds. Meaningful contact with family and friends is important at all times which is why these additional grounds will be facilitated. Compassionate grounds could be for example to see a family member or friend as prolonged absence is causing upset or for personal reasons, to make financial or other arrangements or to advocate on their behalf.
“This new guidance is a welcome development and underpins the type of benefits that arise from the implementation of the vaccine programme. I hope that these modifications in the application of the public health protective measures reinforce the real hope that the vaccines are bringing us and continue the journey towards a more normal lived experience.”