News story

Government to legally make visiting a part of care

People in care homes and hospitals will be able to have visitors in all circumstances under law amendment.

  • Government announces proposed legislation on visiting in health and care settings
  • New regulations will make visiting a legal requirement for hospitals, care homes, mental health units and other health and care settings
  • Care regulator will have new powers to make sure providers are allowing families to visit loved ones

People in care homes and hospitals will be able to have visitors in all circumstances, thanks to the government’s plans to bring forward new legislation.

Health and care settings should be allowing visits, according to the guidance from the government and NHS England currently in place, but there are reported cases where visiting access is being unfairly denied.

As a result, the government is seeking views from patients, care home residents, their families, professionals and providers on the introduction of secondary legislation on visiting restrictions.

The new legislation will strengthen rules around visiting, providing the Care Quality Commission (CQC) with a clearer basis for identifying where hospitals and care homes are not meeting the required standard.

The government recognises the contribution that visiting makes to the wellbeing and care of patients attending hospitals, and residents of care homes, as well as the emotional wellbeing of their families and so is seeking views on what the new rules will look like.

For health settings, regulations will be reviewed in both inpatient and outpatient settings, emergency departments and diagnostic services in hospitals, to allow patients to be accompanied by someone to appointments.

Minister for Care, Helen Whately said:

I know how important visiting is for someone in hospital or living in a care home, and for their families. I know from my own experience too - I know what it feels like to be told you can’t see your mum in hospital. That’s why I’m so determined to make sure we change the law on visiting.

Many care homes and hospitals have made huge progress on visiting and recognising carers since the pandemic. But I don’t want anyone to have to worry about visiting any more, or to face unnecessary restrictions or even bans.

I have listened to campaigners who have been so courageous in telling their stories. I encourage everyone who cares about visiting to take this opportunity to have your say on our plans to legislate for visiting.

Minister of Health, Will Quince said:

Most hospitals and care homes facilitate visiting in line with guidance, but we still hear about settings that aren’t letting friends and families visit loved ones who are receiving treatment or care.

We want everyone to have peace of mind that they won’t face unfair restrictions like this, so we want to make it easier for the CQC to identify when disproportionate restrictions and bans are put in place and strengthen the rules around visiting.

It’s important that people feedback on the consultation, we want to make sure the legislation is right for everyone. If you’ve experienced unjust visiting bans, please share your experience.

Challenges around visiting were exacerbated during the COVID pandemic, with many health and care settings restricting and banning visits to stop the spread of the virus, ease pressure on the NHS and reduce the risk of transmission. Since restrictions were eased and there was a return to normality, many health and care settings have made efforts to return to pre-pandemic visiting. There are however still instances where, families and friends continue to face issues with visiting across the health and care sector.

The CQC does currently have powers to clamp down on unethical visiting restrictions, but the expected standard of visiting is not specifically outlined in regulations. Current guidance from government and the NHS is clear that all care homes and hospitals in England respectively are expected to facilitate visits in a risk-managed way, such as through the use of face coverings in the event of an outbreak or in the reduction of the number of visitors at one time.

Patricia Mecinska, Assistant Director of Patient Experience at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said:

At King’s, our teams recognise the invaluable contribution that friends, carers and loved ones make to the patients under our care, including supporting us to provide care that’s respectful of our patients’ needs, so enabling them to make a positive recovery. Plans to involve care supporters in a more formalised way will be welcomed by many patients and will aid us in delivering our vision of providing outstanding care to patients and communities.

The hospital visiting guidance also includes an expectation that patients can be accompanied to hospital appointments when needed.

With the new legislation, the CQC will be able to enforce the standards by issuing requirement or warning notices, imposing conditions, suspending a registration or cancelling a registration.

Background information

See the visiting in care homes, hospitals and hospices consultation.

Published 21 June 2023