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File photo of a parent visiting their child in hospital Shutterstock/Beenicebeelove
new guidelines

Hospitals to require visitors to show proof of Covid vaccination or immunity from Monday

Frontline staff have welcomed the change, saying it was “ridiculous” that people had to show a Covid cert to enter a café but not an ICU.

PEOPLE VISITING HOSPITALS from Monday onwards will have to show proof they are vaccinated against Covid-19 or immune from the virus.

The previous guidance from the HSE stated that visitors should not attend a hospital if they had tested positive for Covid-19 or had any symptoms.

The official policy is set to change next week, but exceptions will still be made on compassionate grounds. NPHET last month recommended that the Covid-19 pass should be a requirement for visiting hospitals “subject to operational feasibility”.

The HSE’s new guidance states that visitors “should be asked to produce their EU Digital Covid Certificate or HSE Covid-19 Vaccination Record or other proof of immunity at the entrance”.

“Visitors may be asked to show some photo ID to prove that the proof of immunity is theirs. For regular visitors this need not be checked at every attendance if the staff member who is monitoring access is confident that the visitor has previously produced proof of immunity,” it adds.

Staff members from St Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH) in Dublin have welcomed the change in policy after raising concerns about the visiting guidelines there.

Nurses in the intensive care unit at SVUH said they were particularly concerned about unvaccinated visitors coming into contact with vulnerable patients.

One ICU nurse said: “The visiting system is a shambles. You have to show your Covid certificate to get into a coffee shop but not Vincent’s ICU or the wards

Another nurse said: “It’s ridiculous that we can’t ask for Covid certs in a hospital. Are you joking me? Staff and the most vulnerable patients are possibly being exposed to unvaccinated people.”

A third nurse added that some “difficult” relatives of patients who have informed staff they are unvaccinated have been “allowed into hospital whenever they want”.

Another staff member who works in a different part of the hospital said: “The visiting system, or lack of system, is a shambles and there is going to be a lot more positive cases in this hospital if nothing is done.”

Change in guidelines

When asked about visiting guidelines at hospitals, the HSE confirmed to The Journal that it decided to change its policy last month.

A spokesperson noted that on 18 October the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan informed the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly that NPHET strongly recommended “that subject to operational feasibility that the Covid-19 pass be adopted as a requirement for visitation to healthcare settings with a provision for exemptions on compassionate grounds”.

The spokesperson said: “A period of time was required to develop guidance to implement this measure in a practical way. In particular it was important to meet the requirement for exemptions on compassionate grounds. When these issues were addressed HSE AMRIC guidance was updated in this regard and is for implementation from November 29th 2021.”

They noted that people in hospitals “often need access or visits from important people in their lives. This is especially important when they are lonely, stressed, upset or critically ill”.

“HSE Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control (AMRIC) guidance has advised careful control of access for visitors and others to healthcare settings from very early in the pandemic.

“Visitors accessing healthcare facilities should be clear of symptoms of COVID-19. If they have been advised to self isolate or restrict movements they should not visit. They must follow all directions on infection prevention and control while in the hospital,” they added.

When asked about the concerns of its staff members, a spokesperson for SVUH said that hospital officials “closely monitor and review its arrangements for visitors to the hospital in line with the HSE and public health guidance to ensure that the visiting arrangements in place do not present a risk to either patients or staff”.

“The hospital currently operates a system whereby visitors are requested to use the visitor booking system. Visitors are required to complete a questionnaire over the phone in relation to their Covid status before their booking is confirmed.

“Updated HSE guidance in relation to visiting has been issued to all acute hospitals in recent days for implementation on 29th November 2021. As per the updated guidance visitors will be asked to produce their EU Digital Covid Certificate or HSE Covid-19 Vaccination Record or other proof of immunity on entering the hospital.”

The SVUH spokesperson said that in addition to this system, the hospital “will always facilitate visitors outside of the dedicated visiting times where there are specific circumstances including (but not limited to) compassionate access to patients, care of vulnerable patients and patients with other specific needs and this is managed on a case by case basis following individual risk assessment”.

“We believe that our current arrangements allow us to support visiting to the hospital for our patients which is a very important aspect of their care in a way which is controlled, safe and in line with the HSE and public health guidance,” they added. 

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