The government has proposed new legislation that would make it a legal right for people in care homes and hospitals to have visitors ‘in all circumstances’.
The plans would see the Care Quality Commission (CQC) given new powers to ensure care providers are allowing visitors. It comes amid concerns that visiting access continues to be ‘unfairly denied’ in some cases.
During the pandemic, care homes and many other care settings placed restrictions on visiting or even banned visitation to reduce the transmission of Covid-19.
Between December 1 2021 and February 10 2022 the Care Quality Commission (CQC) received visiting concerns regarding 189 services, 82 of which were alleged to have implemented blanket bans.
While the CQC does have powers to clamp down on ‘unethical visiting restrictions’, the ‘expected standard of visiting is not specifically outlined in regulations’, the government said.
Since the abatement of Covid-19 restrictions and the widespread vaccination of elderly patients, guidance from both the NHS and government is that care homes are ‘expected to facilitate visits in a risk-managed way’.
While many services had ‘made efforts to return to pre-pandemic visiting’, the government recognised that there were ‘still instances’ where relatives continued to ‘face issues’.
Under the proposed new rules, care homes, hospitals, mental health units and other health and care settings regulated by the CQC would all have a legal duty to ensure that residents and patients are able to have visitors.
Helen Whately, minister for care, said that while many care homes have ‘made huge progress on visiting and recognising carers since the pandemic’ she did not want ‘anyone to have to worry about visiting any more, or to face unnecessary restrictions or even bans’.
However, Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, questioned the need for specific legislation on visiting rights.
‘It is important that people in health and care settings maintain their links to families and friends,’ said Professor Green.
‘However, I am not sure this requires legislation because the majority of services are welcoming to visitors. If there are unintended consequences of visiting in either care, health or mental health settings, the accountability trail for these issues must now go to ministers rather than to the services themselves.’
Meanwhile, Will Quince, minister of health, said that the proposed new law would ‘make it easier for the CQC to identify when disproportionate restrictions and bans are put in place and strengthen the rules around visiting’.
If passed, the law would give the CQC powers to enforce visiting standards by issuing requirement or warning notices, imposing conditions, suspending a registration, or cancelling a registration.
The legislation is currently open for consultation which closes at 11:59pm on 16 August 2023.
Mr Quince added that it was ‘important that people feedback on the consultation, we want to make sure the legislation is right for everyone’. ‘If you’ve experienced unjust visiting bans, please share your experience,’ he said.