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Hospital visiting restrictions to ease

Acute and community hospitals across County Durham and Darlington have announced that from Tuesday 1 March, some of the visitor restrictions re-introduced in January will be eased.

Noel Scanlon, executive director of nursing, at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Introducing restrictions on our patients receiving visitors was a very difficult decision, made in response to both very worrying COVID-19 infection rates locally, and national guidance.  We know this hasn't been easy for patients and their loved ones, so we're absolutely delighted that, from today, we're able to begin lifting some of these restrictions. Of course, we all know how quickly infection rates can change so we'll keep a close eye on these to keep patients, our staff - and the wider community - as safe as possible.

"From Tuesday 1 March, patients will be able to have one designated named visitor per day, for up to an hour, by appointment, booked in advance by the ward clerk. This will also apply to young patients on our children's wards, in addition to the resident parent or carer already permitted.   Keeping the numbers of people coming into our buildings to a minimum is still important so, for example, it won't be possible for two family members to each visit for 30 minutes. Visitors will also be able to use the restaurants and coffee shops on all sites.

"Visitors will still not be allowed on COVID-19 and outbreak wards for obvious reasons, or our emergency departments and acute medical units where social distancing is hard to control.

"There are some exemptions to the existing visiting restrictions which are listed below and which will continue:

  • Patients receiving end of life care
  • Patients with dementia, a learning disability or autism and those who require a carer
  • Where visiting will support discharge or the mental wellbeing of a patient this may also be arranged at the discretion of the ward manager/nurse in charge.

In women's and children's departments:

  • Women having antenatal scans will be able to be accompanied by their chosen support person
  • Women in labour will be able to have one birthing partner
  • A daily postnatal visit by chosen support person
  • One parent or carer will be able to accompany children in our emergency departments, children's wards and neonatal units.

"In our outpatient departments we are asking that patients please come for their appointments unaccompanied. However, there are some exceptions to that. Patients with communication difficulties, those that are hard of hearing or who have sight impairment, we of course want someone with them to help keep them safe and to ensure any messages from our clinical staff can be understood. Exception can also continue to be made where the appointment will involve breaking bad news - at the discretion of medical and nursing staff.

"Visitors will notice social distancing measures in place, including directional guidance in corridors and a maximum of two people in lifts. Hospital grade face masks are still required in all public areas in our hospital and are available at our entrances. We also strongly encourage the use of hand gel which is also available at entrances, wards and bedsides. It's really important everyone works with us and complies with these measures, including social distancing, to minimise the risk of infection.

"We also continue to ask families to leave items for patients, other than valuables, with our reception teams, rather than taking them to wards themselves.  Our porters are delivering items as soon as possible on the same day.

"We'll continue to help patients have virtual visits, using iPads which are available on wards.

"Before visitors come to any of our hospitals we would like to remind them of the following:

  • Visitors are encouraged to be double-vaccinated at least 14 days prior to the visit and where possible have also had their COVID-19 booster vaccine
  • Visitors will be required to produce evidence of a negative lateral flow test undertaken on the same day, prior to the visit, such as a dated photograph of the test strip or screenshot from the NHS app. This includes resident parents who will have to undertake a lateral flow test every day
  • Visits can only take place by appointment with the Ward clerk and will be limited to one hour per patient per day.

"We will continue to monitor and consider this position to look at the possible, safe reintroduction of all visiting and how this would be managed. Current restrictions will remain in place while community prevalence, hospital admissions and outbreaks remain high. Please be kind to our colleagues when they are making arrangements with you, they are following our guidelines to help protect all patients.

"We're incredibly grateful for the continued support, patience and understanding from our local communities as we take these cautious steps forward."

'As I was very, very nervous, I must have been the worst patient ever and they were brilliant with me and I can't thank them enough - could you please pass on my sincere thanks.'

Patient, Hysteroscopy Unit, Chester-le-Street Community Hospital