The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, is deeply concerned about possible breaches of human rights as a result of older people in care homes still being denied visits from families for many months.

He has expressed his concern that many of these residents are still unable to receive safe face-to-face visits with family members despite the roll out of the vaccination programme, regular testing and other precautions having been put in place.
Many families have contacted the Commissioner seeking his help for care home providers to comply with the Department of Health guidance to create opportunities for safe visiting of care home residents.
Eddie Lynch said:
“I have been working with authorities to try to get care homes to facilitate visits in a limited and safe way, so that families who have been separated for months can meet again.
“My office has received many requests for assistance in recent weeks from families who are desperate to visit their relatives with many describing how they feel their relative is being ‘held hostage’ or being ‘treated like a prisoner’. Fortunately, in most cases, we have been able to work with care home providers to get these situations resolved. However, I remain concerned that the cases we are dealing with could be the tip of the iceberg and that many other families and residents may still be unfairly denied this important contact.
“I have sought assurances from authorities for many weeks that this issue is being tackled but I remain unconvinced that they know the true scale of this problem or how hard it is hitting residents and families. Given that many of these older people will be in the latter stages of their lives, it is critical that where visiting can be done safely, that it is facilitated immediately.
“Despite the Minister stating clearly that care home visits need to happen where possible, I have become aware in recent weeks of some providers still maintaining blanket bans on visiting or only allowing window visits despite having no Covid-19 outbreak in a home. This is not good enough and needs to change fast.
“I recognise and pay tribute to those care home providers who have complied with the guidance and have provided safe and meaningful opportunities for families to have visits with residents. This is providing them with much needed contact and I have heard heart-warming stories of what a difference this is making after such a terrible number of months.”
The Commissioner is asking anyone who is having problems seeing their relatives in care homes, to get in touch with his office and let him know what is happening.
Eddie Lynch continued:
“Although we must remain vigilant, it is clear we are now in a different place than we were a few months ago. All care home residents have received both doses of the vaccine and care home outbreaks are at the lowest point since the early days of the pandemic. Families tell me they are willing to be tested regularly and many of them have already been vaccinated themselves. If there is no Covid-19 outbreak in a home then residents must be re-connected with their loved ones. The denial of such a basic human right is cruel and inhumane.”
Additional information:
  • If you are having difficulty in visiting your relative in a care home the Commissioner would ask you to make contact with his office on 028 9089 0892 or
  • Current DoH Guidance for visiting: Level 4 restrictions amended 26 February 2021 and effective from 01 March:
- Where the home is not in an outbreak, visiting for residents should be arranged using well-ventilated designated rooms/visiting pods, with additional visiting arranged as outdoor visits, window visits and virtually supported visits.
- Where visits can only take place in a resident’s own room, this should be arranged where this can be accommodated within social distancing.
- End of life visiting can take place in a resident’s own room as agreed with the care home manager.