Coronavirus (COVID-19): hospital visiting

Enabling family support for people in hospital in Scotland.

This document is part of a collection

Key principles

These principles are designed to support local NHS clinical teams to take a flexible, compassionate approach whilst managing risks appropriately. A flexible person-centred approach should always be taken.

  • helping people in hospital to get the vital support they need from family members is of paramount importance. This should balance risk proportionately whilst considering the rights, wellbeing and safety of all concerned
  • all people in hospital should be able to have daily visits from family during their hospital stay
  • the number of people visiting at any one time should be managed appropriately. The need for family support should be balanced with the need for dignity and privacy of other people, especially in multiple occupancy areas, and maintaining a safe environment where clinical teams can go about their work. For example, two family members visiting at a time is generally a helpful approach, but this should not be inflexible and there may be times when it is appropriate have more or less visitors
  • a family member visiting hospital may need to be accompanied by someone else to support them. For example, a child visiting a parent or sibling, a frail older person, or a disabled person. The presence of the additional person providing help should not be a barrier to a visit taking place
  • meal times are particularly important for family support, especially if the person in hospital is frail, has a cognitive impairment such as dementia or a learning disability
  • people attending hospitals to visit a loved one should follow IPC precautions
  • local clinical teams should feel empowered to make the right decision to meet the needs of the person in hospital and their family in any given circumstance. If in doubt, the default position should be to err on the side of compassion and facilitate visits

Additional considerations

  • there are specific clinical circumstances where visits do need to be more carefully managed. For example, when an individual is severely immunocompromised following organ donation or bone marrow transplantation
  • in the case of someone with incapacity, the views of the Power of Attorney or Guardian, which should be central to the decision about who provides support as well as individual views and needs of each patient. If an individual lacks capacity, the principles of the Adults with Incapacity Act make it clear that attempts should be made to involve the person in whatever way possible, considering past and present views. A person-centred focus should still be adopted
  • visiting should not be restricted because of increased hospital activity, staffing challenges or breakdowns in staff-family relationships. In such circumstances family support is more important than ever. Restricting visiting has been shown to have negative impact on patient safety and on care experience resulting in increased tension and poor relationships with families and increased complaints.
  • in the event of an outbreak of infection the local Incident Management Team (IMT) may need to temporarily instate specific restrictions in areas to prevent spread and to protect patients, families and staff. This is normal practice for outbreak management
  • recognising the negative impact on patient safety and psychological wellbeing, “blanket” policies restricting visiting for all hospitals, or all people with a particular condition, should not be applied. This also recognises the fundamental importance of the right to family life


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