Thousands of care homes, hospitals and hospices will have to allow residents to receive visitors after a change in the law, announced today.
In a major victory for the campaigning Daily Express, transparency will finally be brought to the sector that has often ridden roughshod over the interests of families for years.
For the first time, around-the-clock access to residents will be made as important as food, drink and properly qualified staff.
Care minister Helen Whately said: “Contact with loved ones makes all the difference to wellbeing.
“I know how painful it can be when you’re stopped from seeing someone who means everything to you, especially when you don’t know how much time they have left.
“It’s something I don’t want anyone to have to go through again. That’s why we’re changing the law to recognise just how much visiting matters.”
New legislation finally recognises the importance of a tender embrace from a loved one.
Mrs Whately, who was denied seeing her own sick mother in hospital, says such contact is “more powerful than any medicine that can be administered”.
Throughout the pandemic despairing families branded the Care Quality Commission regulator “toothless” after they were refused access as loved ones died inside, scared and alone.
The CQC already has a set of “fundamental standards” below which an individual’s care must never fall, including dignity and respect as well as safeguarding from abuse.
Now the law will make visiting part of good care for some 15,000 regulated facilities.
The CQC will have a clear mandate to check providers are meeting access obligations so those in care have vital connections with family and friends.
Today’s announcement is recognition for those cruelly banned from bedside visits during Covid while pubs, restaurants and sports matches attracted hundreds of thousands.
It meant many were denied the right of one final hug or kiss.
Current Department of Health and Social Care guidance urging access can be ignored and facilities can dictate their own terms.
The new law, introduced speedily as secondary legislation, means the CQC will be fully answerable to families who cannot access a facility because of, say, flu or norovirus outbreaks.
Health facilities will now be graded on access with those failing to comply, or in breach, named and shamed and barred from having top rankings.
Mrs Whately says all visits should be unlimited in time and number but at the very minimum one individual should be able to accompany a resident or patient.
In addition to care homes and hospitals, it will allow patients to be accompanied to appointments at inpatient and outpatient settings, emergency departments and diagnostic services. It means no mother will be forced to give birth alone, will end the scandal of only one parent accompanying a sick child at paediatric A&E departments, while a family member or friend can go with cancer patients to chemotherapy sessions.
Mrs Whately said she knows “how hard visiting restrictions were during the pandemic. Now it is behind us, I strongly feel we need to learn lessons.
“There are things we need to change and [one of those] is making sure we have visiting status right across health and social care.
“Most place places are not generally restricting [visiting] but there are some examples. I don’t want anyone to have to worry.
“I don’t want anyone to have to fight to see loved ones. It is something I feel very strongly about.
The CQC said: “Under current legislation providers aren’t required to notify us when restrictions are imposed. We have made it clear to providers the requirements of them to take a human rights and person-centred approach to visiting. When concerns are raised with us, we take action to ensure they are acting in line with current guidance.”