• New guidance states all hospital visits are suspended indefinitely
  • Patients with dementia, autism and learning disabilities exempt in certain circumstances
  • Campaigners welcome move after highlighting inconsistent policies across NHS hospitals

The NHS has told trusts it should allow some hospital visits in response to concerns that too many were opposing ‘unfair’ outright bans.

Guidance published this week by NHS England states all hospital visiting is “suspended with immediate effect and until further notice”. However, it adds that in a bid to address “unfair” and inconsistent policies imposed by individual trusts, certain patients may still receive visits in “exceptional circumstances”.

These include allowing a patient with dementia, learning disabilities or mental health issues to have one visitor – either an immediate family member or carer – if they would become “distressed by a lack of visits”.

Less than a quarter of England’s 220 NHS trusts were allowing visits in such circumstances, according to advocacy group John’s Campaign.

Other examples exempt from NHSE’s temporary ban on visitors include visits to palliative care patients, a birthing partner to accompany a woman in labour, and a parent or carer visiting their child.

Around 170 trusts allowed visits for these purposes, the campaign group reported – after researching every trust’s visiting policy.

Julia Jones, of John’s Campaign, welcomed the national guidance and said hospitals had been “too often making the assumption that a blanket ban was the safest course of action”.

She said: “There were two problems. Firstly, an unwillingness in some trusts to acknowledge the rights of people with these special needs and secondly the basic unfairness of different arrangements being in place in neighbouring trusts.”

But she warned that special needs patients in care homes remain “parted from those who matter most to them.”

“We are not questioning the need to restrict general movement in this period of national emergency, but we are concerned that individual need must still be recognised,” she said. 

“We also cannot understand why family members who are offering to volunteer as care home helpers – and who will undertake, for instance, to self-isolate outside the care home – are being turned away when there is such evident pressure on staff.”

NHSE’s new guidance matches rules in Scotland, but different rules apply in Wales and Northern Ireland.