Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, yesterday told trusts, to allow visitors to boost patients' 'experience, mental health and recovery'
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Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, yesterday told trusts, to allow visitors to boost patients' 'experience, mental health and recovery'

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, yesterday told trusts, to allow visitors to boost patients’ ‘experience, mental health and recovery’

NHS hospitals have once again been told to scrap any patient visiting restrictions introduced during the Covid pandemic.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, yesterday told trusts to allow visitors to boost patients’ ‘experience, mental health and recovery’.

In a letter sent to hospital bosses, she said all healthcare settings ‘should now begin transitioning back towards their own pre-pandemic (or better) policies on inpatient visiting’.

Ms Pritchard added the ‘default position’ should be ‘no patient having to be alone unless through their choice’. 

NHS guidelines were updated in March to allow patients to have two visitors for at least one hour per day and ‘ideally for longer’.

Hospitals, including Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead (pictured), Yeovil Hospital and St Bartholomew's in London last month came under fire for having more stringent limits on visitors

Hospitals, including Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, Yeovil Hospital (pictured) and St Bartholomew's in London last month came under fire for having more stringent limits on visitors

Hospitals, including Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead (left), Yeovil Hospital (right) and St Bartholomew’s in London last month came under fire for having more stringent limits on visitors

What are the NHS guidelines for hospital visits? 

Visiting should be accommodated for at least one hour per day and ideally for longer. 

Visiting policies also need to reflect that Covid  is in general circulation. 

The health, safety, mental health and wellbeing of our patients, communities and staff remain the priority.

Number of visitors at the bedside:

  • Two visitors
  • Patients may be accompanied where appropriate and necessary to assist their communication and/or to meet their health, care, emotional, religious, or spiritual care needs

These principles should also be applied in outpatient and diagnostic service settings and the emergency department where the patient may wish/need to be accompanied by somebody important to them. 

No patient should have to attend on their own unless it is their personal choice. 

But nearly half of trusts maintained policies so strict they flaunted the guidance, the Mail on Sunday found.

Last month Queen Victoria Hospital in Sussex, Yeovil Hospital and St Bartholomew’s in London came under fire for stringent visitor limits. MPs claimed the restrictions were illegal.

Ms Pritchard said the guidelines were the ‘absolute minimum standard’. 

In addition to her letter, Ms Pritchard told an NHS England meeting yesterday visitor guidelines should be implemented in full citing significant benefits. 

She said: ‘Allowing visitors, as well as loved ones accompanying those attended planned appointments, is really important to patient experience, mental health and recovery.

‘Not to mention the benefit that clinicians can get from having the input and insight into their patient from those who know them best.

‘As well as the value to patient care, this is about the core NHS values of compassion, of dignity and of respect.’

Ms Pritchard noted: ‘Covid is still circulating in the community and so there is a need to balance risk.’

But she added: ‘Our starting point has to be: what do patients want and need, and the vast majority of inpatients will want and will need to see visitors.’

It comes after senior Conservatives — including former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith — wrote a letter last month warning that denying visitation is ‘inhumane and cruel’.

They wrote: ‘Unsurprisingly, isolation and loss of social contact has a devastating impact on physical and psychological health.

‘Without the support of family and friends, health outcomes are poorer as patients and residents lose hope, sometimes even losing the will to live, often refusing treatment. 

Ms Pritchard’s latest statements comes after NHS England guidelines in March set out that all healthcare settings should facilitate visitors ‘for at least one hour per day and ideally for longer’.  

Separate UKHSA guidance last month set out that patients no longer have to socially distance when in hospitals. 

NHS trusts across England were told to ‘return to pre-pandemic physical distancing in all areas’.

The move means NHS medics, patients and visitors no longer have to stay apart in GP surgeries, emergency departments and ambulances. 

However, people should still wear face masks when in hospital settings and continue to practice good hand hygiene, according to guidance. 

Health workers are still told to test themselves twice a week using lateral flow tests if they work in a patient-facing role.

The move takes into account the ‘ongoing impact’ social distancing is having on NHS capacity, bosses said.

The health service has admitted the measure gave it fewer beds to perform elective surgery, having a knock-on effect on its ability to sort the backlog, which has soared to a record 6.4million because of Covid.

But it has also warned that stepping down infection control measures risks infecting both patients and staff.

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