BGS statement on family and friends visiting older people in care homes and hospitals

25 March 2022
black woman sitting with an older black man at a table

Older people have faced unprecedented levels of social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reduction in social contact has helped to reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, there is a growing body of evidence that older people have also been harmed by isolation measures. This harm has come in the form of loneliness, deteriorating health, and physical and cognitive deconditioning. The harm has extended to families who have suffered substantially because of being unable to see older relatives.

While visiting policies in hospitals and care homes have become much more open in the last few months, these policies remain variable. In some instances, protocols designed to protect older people have had unintended consequences resulting in continued and prolonged isolation. Examples include the “rolling lockdowns” experienced in some care homes and hospital wards, which have locked down every time a staff member or resident tested positive, with the consequence that families have faced enforced separation for weeks or even months.

The right to liberty and to a family life are fundamental human rights enshrined in the Human Rights Act 2000. Older people, who were vulnerable to COVID-19, needed to be protected early in the pandemic using every available measure. However, the harms associated with visits to older people in hospitals and care homes are now limited, thanks to effective vaccination protection and less severe illness. Meanwhile the harms associated with prolonged separation are considerable.

The British Geriatrics Society supports all measures to enable visiting of family and friends. Access for carers and family members should be the rule, not the exception.

A number of organisations across the UK are campaigning for better and more consistent recognition of the important role that families and carers play in the lives of older people. These include John’s Campaign, Rights for Residents, Relatives and Residents Association, and the campaign around Anne’s Law in Scotland. We encourage members to visit these websites to learn more about the individual campaigns.