One in eight hospital trusts still won’t allow relatives to visit patients

Andrew Denham has been in Bridgwater Community Hospital, Somerset, since December after suffering a pressure sore.

This week, his daughter Katherine was turned away from seeing him and his family claimed they have had no communication from the hospital.

“I’ve emailed the ward and the complaints department and I’ve had no response,” his wife, Alison Denham, told The Telegraph. “I’m frustrated and angry. He’s deprived of everything, to be honest. He’s extremely isolated.”

The 70-year-old has primary progressive MS and is in a single room in the hospital. Mrs Denham said the lack of visits is likely to worsen his physical condition.

Mr Denham, who lives in Wellington, Somerset, is unable to hold a mobile phone due to his illness, meaning he is reliant on email and the ward phone to communicate with his family.

“We’re not communicating that well. Getting through [to the ward is difficult],” Mrs Denham said. “I’ve spent hours ringing, and nobody answers. It’s rare that I get through to speak to him.”

‘Responsible visiting’

Alison Wootton, the deputy chief nurse at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, said the trust is reviewing visiting guidelines because of a reduction in cases and will reopen “responsible visiting” next week.

Helen Wildbore, the director of the Relatives and Residents Association, said hospitals not only have a duty to protect patients from Covid but also from “the harms of separation and isolation”.

“For many, this poses a much greater risk now than the virus itself,” she told The Telegraph. “Is this really the strategy for ‘living with Covid’? Drop all safeguards in the community and encourage everyone else to get back to normal, but leave people in hospitals cut off from their vital support networks?”

Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK, said current hospital discharge delays among older patients make family visits “all the more important” for their well-being. NHS data show three-quarters of patients fit to leave hospital remained stuck in wards as of April 3.

“There’s no place for blanket bans on visiting,” she said, praising trusts allowing loved ones into hospitals despite high case rates.

Since the NHS guidance was issued last month, some trusts have relaxed limits on visits, but many still remain significantly restricted.

One 45-minute visit per day

Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust is allowing inpatients on some wards to have one visitor for up to 30 minutes per day, while Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust is permitting one visitor for 45 minutes.

The guidance does not require loved ones to take lateral flow tests before visits, but some trusts are still encouraging them to be taken despite the ending of universal free testing on April 1.

Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, which is only permitting visitors after a patient has been in hospital for a week, said it would “prefer” visitors to take a test “if they still have a supply”. Some high street retailers are now selling four tests for £17.

People will not be refused entry if they have not tested, but the trust said it “will ask you some screening questions when you arrive”.

An NHS spokesman said: “In line with the latest guidance, NHS Trusts should facilitate patient visits and measures should already be in place for this to be done safely.”

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