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Hospitals are making up their own inhumane rules on visiting

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ALTHOUGH the bluff of Freedom Day was announced almost five months ago on July 19, it appears that virtually all hospitals are still operating within the visiting guidance applicable to the third lockdown, last updated March 16, and some of which would doubtless have been carried over from the previous two lockdowns. The NHS really are refusing to move on.

Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which I wrote about last week,  are not unique in having tightened measures even more to shield their patients from the invented tyranny of the thus-far impotent Omicron variant. All hospitals in England seem to be modifying months-old guidance at will.

Such licence to play Jenga with the rules will have ruinous physical and emotional implications for those upon whom the tower persistently falls. All it takes is a single and especially hypochondriacal (or sensibly cautious, depending on your pandemic stance) NHS official to give the nod, and an end-of-life visitat can be denied, or an infant in neonatal intensive care may die with only one (masked) parent present.

Across the board visits to wards are severely restricted, and must not only be booked in advance but are contingent upon a negative lateral flow test result. Here are some individual measures:

East Surrey Hospital, near Redhill, allow one hour-long visit per day per patient, but it must always be the same nominated visitor, whereas University Hospital Southampton say that patients who have been in hospital for longer than seven days are permitted only three visits per week at the discretion of the hospital.

The even more miserly Princess Alexandra Hospital Trust in Essex permit visits for a maximum of 45 minutes, and the visitor must scan their NHS Test and Trace QR code to gain entry. Cambridge University Hospitals Trust say that appointments to visit cannot be booked until 48 hours after admission, meaning the patient must spend their first two days in hospital alone. Their ‘food court’ is closed to visitors.

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals Trust, Royal Bolton Hospital, Wirral University Teaching Hospital, and Epsom and St. Helier University Hospitals Trust, among many others, maintain a suspension on ward visits in all but ‘exceptional’ circumstances.

Across the board masks are mandatory for all visitors, and hardly any hospital seems to make any acknowledgement of the validity of a ‘self-certified’ exemption.

However there are variations. One hospital says that if wearing a surgical mask is intolerable then a visor must be worn, unless you can demonstrate your exemption: something not in line with gov.uk’s overall guidance here, and a subject roundly omitted from their brief hospital-specific guidance here. Many others say visitors must wear aprons and gloves when visiting wards, and bring as few bags, coats and gifts as possible. One facility says that coats and jackets must also be removed upon entry.

On and on the pick-and-mix guidance goes, but there are two visiting domains which stand out above all others for their cruel vagaries.

As is now the norm in post-Covid/midst-Omicron England, it is children – those at least risk from the virus and who have been recognised by both the UKHSA and the JCVI as insignificant drivers of transmission – nevertheless smacked hardest by Covid-19 health controls.

East Suffolk and North Essex Hospital Trust say that only in exceptional circumstances are children able to visit their wards. Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge concede no such wiggle-room with the terse ‘Children are not permitted on site’, as if vermin.

‘No children under 16 are permitted to visit unless for compassionate reasons at the discretion of the nurse in charge’ says one hospital. ‘There must only ever be one person with the child at any one time’ says another.

On Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Trust’s children’s wards, ‘no siblings are allowed’. On Chelsea and Westminster’s, children (including siblings) are not even permitted on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and virtually all hospitals agree that only one parent can accompany a child onto hospital premises or visit them on the ward at any one time: Neonatal Intensive Care included.

The protocols around end-of-life visiting are not much better, the running theme being that these visits must be cleared well in advance, and only after a rigorous health and safety assessment from the team in charge of the poor soul’s care, as if to offer comfort to a loved one about to depart this world were a State-granted privilege and not a human right.

One visitor or two? Children allowed or not allowed? 45 minutes or an hour? Every day or only thrice weekly? No mask, or mask plus gloves and apron? I’m afraid you will have to check with your local Trust on the matter of end-of-life visits – protocol all subject to rapid change – and while you’re at it, try not to contract anything terminal, or even break a leg, because the future will suddenly become bleak in more ways than one.

As for maternity care, it may be prudent for all expectant mothers to contact their local hospital to gain some understanding of what giving birth in the Covid era may look like, because it varies greatly from region to region.

With the arrival of Omicron, hospital health control measures can only get more severe. Considering that all facilities are already operating according to guidance written last winter, I feel it safe to say that we can expect another 18 months at the very least, of the NHS’s medical and psychological civil war: ‘As you enter our buildings you will go through one of our checkpoints. Please refrain from stopping to talk with people you may recognise as this will clutter the corridors of our hospitals and jeopardise the one-way system in place.’

We are human clutter being herded down the one-way road to collapse.

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