Press Release:

Thursday 11 March 2021

The Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD and the Minister for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler, TD, have welcomed the approval by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) of the new Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) COVID-19 Guidance on visitations to Long Term Residential Care Facilities, to be implemented from 22 March.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact across society, especially on 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 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.

Welcoming the announcement, Minister Rabbitte said:

I am thrilled to learn of the new visitation guidance for nursing homes.  I have heard first hand of the joy by family members to learn of the new visitation guidance.

Following the approval of the new guidance, Minister 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 the 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.

Welcoming the new guidance, Minister Butler said:

Twelve months on from the life changing arrival of COVID-19 we have seen the huge impact this virus has had on society, especially for our older people. It has been an incredibly difficult time for people living in nursing homes and their families as restrictions on visiting have continued.  For many there has been limited opportunity since Christmas to see their loved ones.

The ongoing reduction in COVID-19 cases across the community and the significant progress made in vaccinating the majority of nursing home staff and residents will now result in a loosening of current visiting restrictions. Moving forward under levels, 3, 4 and 5, residents will be able to receive two visits every week, under compassionate grounds where there is high vaccine coverage in a nursing home. The next few days will allow time for nursing home service providers to communicate with families, book visits and prepare for additional visiting.

The Minister continued:

However, the risk associated with COVID-19 remains very real. This is why the guidance takes a cautious approach and aligns with the principles set out in the Government’s revised Living with COVID-19 Plan. We all need to remain vigilant, and continue to follow public health advice, including when visiting, to reduce the spread of COVID and protect those living in our communities.

The new visiting guidance will, I hope, be widely welcomed, as it signifies a big step forward in providing opportunities for people living in nursing homes and their families to meet much more frequently. I expect that all nursing home providers will facilitate visiting, in line with the new guidance announced today.