Nearly two-thirds of England’s NHS hospital trusts now meet official guidance, published in March, allowing ward patients two visitors each day.
However, a quarter continue to allow only one daily visitor – sometimes for as little as 30 minutes – and private hospitals are also implementing differing policies.
When the MoS carried out an audit last month, nine out of 142 NHS hospital trusts in England were still operating a complete ban on visitors for most ward patients. Only 66 of them (46 per cent) abided by the official guidance.
Days later, Health Secretary Sajid Javid ordered hospital bosses to admit visitors and all nine hospitals that operated near-total bans have since scrapped the policy.
Over the last three weeks, the number of trusts allowing two visitors a day has increased from 66 to 85, but 40 (28 per cent) are still allowing only one visitor daily.
NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard this weekend ramped up pressure on hospitals to relax the rules, telling local health chiefs in a letter to ‘begin transitioning back towards their own pre-pandemic (or better) policies on inpatient visiting… with the default position of no patient having to be alone unless through their choice’.
And last night, Tory MP Alicia Kearns said limiting visits to ‘just 30 minutes, once a day, is wrong’, adding: ‘Visitors advocate for patients and lessen demands on staff. These heartless and dangerous restrictions must end once and for all.’
But hardliners still remain, including Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust which on April 29 said it allows ‘inpatients on certain wards to receive one visitor for up to 30 minutes per day’. A spokesman last night said: ‘We are currently reviewing the policy and are likely to ease restrictions from 30 May.’
Most patients at Worcestershire Royal Hospitals can still receive only one visitor a day for a ‘pre-booked 45-minute visit’, with two people able to register to visit during the patient’s stay. But 30 miles away, NHS hospitals in Cheltenham and Gloucester say ‘two visitors can visit one patient at any one time between 11am and 8pm’. Several other hospitals have also dropped pre-booking but it remains widespread. Some, including Hull and Reading, insist most patients can only have a single ‘designated’ visitor for their entire stay.
Restrictions also vary widely in the private sector. Nuffield Health said ‘visiting is limited’, with a spokesman adding: ‘Visitors are risk-assessed at reception for respiratory symptoms.’
Spire Hospitals said patients are allowed visitors only in ‘exceptional circumstances’ but that they ‘constantly review’ their policy. Circle Health has updated its visitor policy from one to two people per day, while HCA Healthcare UK asks inpatients not to have visitors unless they are in for at least three days.