The importance of support from family members and loved ones to people in hospital cannot be overstated, bringing comfort to both the person in hospital and the people whom they consider to be their family or carers. For example, people with dementia may have limited understanding of events may experience distress and confusion – which can be eased by the presence of familiar faces of family and friends who visit.
There are many other situations where we know that support from family, friends or a carer has a positive effect on quality of care including nutrition, healing, recovery and overall quality of care. Given this, family support should be a fundamental part of the care of a person in hospital and not optional.
In recognition of the reasons described above, since August 2021 we have been supporting Scottish health boards to begin the gradual and careful return to person-centred visiting.
Additional protections are necessary because people in hospital are more likely to become seriously ill if they contract an infection, especially COVID-19. This risk needs to be carefully and compassionately balanced with a person’s right to see a loved one in person. It is essential that we take great care to follow infection prevention and control policies designed to keep people in hospital as safe as possible.
We expect health boards to be flexible and compassionate in their management of visiting, responding in a compassionate and flexible way as required.
At times it may be necessary to restrict visiting for short periods of time for specific reasons. For example, if there is an outbreak of an infection such as COVID-19 in a ward it is normal practice to restrict visiting until the outbreak is under control. Even in these circumstances we would expect essential visits to be able to continue where required. Some examples of situations include, when someone is reaching the end of their life, if someone has dementia and needs family support, support for someone with a learning disability, a family member who has informal caring responsibilities, parents with a child in hospital and care relating to childbirth including both ante-natal and post-natal care. These examples are illustrative and are not an exhaustive list.
What is meant by family support
The term family is interpreted in its broadest possible sense, recognising that the person an individual might want to support them in hospital could be a friend, carer or neighbour, and may not always be a relative. We recognise that the support provided from such people is vital to the wellbeing and recovery of a person in hospital. Wherever the term “family” is used throughout this guidance the same broad interpretation is intended, also recognising that family and friends are not “visitors” in a person’s life, even in hospital.
Whenever you visit someone in hospital, you should take a lateral flow test and have received a negative result before visiting. Other protections such as use of face coverings, hand hygiene and physical distancing must also be followed.
In hospital wards where there is an active outbreak being managed, only essential visits will be allowed. Visitors will need to ensure that they follow all existing protections (as outlined above) and should have taken a lateral flow test and have received a negative result before visiting. Given the nature of essential visits, there may be times when it is important that a visit takes place even in the absence of a negative lateral flow test. In these circumstances clinicians should use professional judgement to support this in a compassionate and flexible way.
If you have feedback on this guidance please email: Annalena.Winslow@gov.scot.
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