Hospital visits during coronavirus

Visiting a person with dementia in hospital can make a big difference to how they feel and to the quality of their care. This information will help you plan ahead and understand what to expect from a visit during the pandemic and when visiting might be restricted.

1. Measures to make hospitals safer

Hospitals have lots of measures in place to protect everyone from coronavirus. 

As in care homes, the measures used by hospitals include:

  • wearing of PPE by clinical staff
  • frequent hand washing and cleaning of surfaces
  • good ventilation
  • social distancing – where this is appropriate.
  • isolation of patients who have been in contact with someone with Covid
  • following government guidance on self isolation for staff who have been exposed or have symptoms.

You should expect to see these in place when you visit.

2. When are hospital visits allowed?

Talk to staff on the ward about visiting arrangements and how to get the most from your visit. What is allowed will depend on whether or not there are a lot of coronavirus cases around at the time. The details of any visit will also vary between wards, for example, between a general medical ward and intensive care. 

In most hospitals, visits to patients who have coronavirus will be allowed only if the person is at the end of their life. This could include the final months of someone’s life rather than just the last few days or weeks.

For safety reasons, visits in many hospitals are still restricted to special circumstances. If visiting a patient with dementia, these circumstances are when:

  • it is required to meet emotional needs
  • the person has needs that cannot otherwise be met – for example with communication or support at mealtimes
  • the person is at the end of their life.

Staff on the ward should talk to you about how these apply to you and the person you care about. In most cases visits will be limited to one or two named visitors – an exception is at end of life.

Check with staff if you wish to bring a gift as they may have certain rules in place. Not all wards will allow you to take flowers in, for example.

You must not visit if you have symptoms of coronavirus, a cough, cold or stomach bug. You must also not visit if you have tested positive for coronavirus in the past ten days or have been told to self-isolate.

Ask the nurse in charge of the ward or check the hospital website for information on the hospital’s visiting policies at this time.

3. What happens when I visit the hospital?

Hospital visitors will usually need to:

  • contact the staff working on the ward in advance to book a visit
  • have had a negative lateral flow test (if possible) on the day of visiting
  • clean their hands using the gel dispensers provided – when entering and leaving the ward
  • wear a face covering (unless exempt) – or surgical mask if the hospital staff give one. Visits at end of life to a person with COVID-19 will mean wearing PPE
  • maintain social distancing – keeping two metres away from others where possible
  • limit close contact with the patient – things like hand-holding without gloves will be allowed to reduce distress, so long as visitors wash hands before and after
  • keep the visit short – often no more than an hour, longer at end of life and to support a person’s care needs or wellbeing.

The above apply even if the visitor has been fully vaccinated against Covid.

4. When does a hospital patient have to self-isolate?

Patients staying in hospital who have been exposed to Covid should be isolated or cohorted (grouped together) with other patients without Covid symptoms who have also been exposed. This will last for 14 days after their last exposure if they remain in hospital. This applies whether or not patients are fully vaccinated or have previously tested positive for coronavirus.

Patients exposed to a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant should ideally be isolated separately.

5. When hospital visits are not possible

Hospitals continue to encourage friends and family to stay in touch in other ways. These can include:

  • writing letters or sending cards
  • mobile phone calls or texts 
  • use of tablets or smartphones for video calls
  • sending a gift (ask hospital staff for their guidance around this)
  • requesting a song on hospital radio.

Speak to the ward and see what will work best for you and the person you care about. 

Dementia Support Line
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