Hospital visiting may not return to normal despite Covid rules ending in Wales

People may not be able to visit loved ones in hospital in the way they did before the pandemic, despite the Welsh Government announcing the last Coronavirus restrictions have come to an end in Wales.

On Friday, the Welsh Government announced it was removing the legal requirement to wear face coverings in health and care settings.

Hospital visits have been severely restricted throughout the pandemic, with many patients often going weeks or months without visitors.

Many people with relatives and friends in hospitals had hoped that this would mean visiting would return to how it was before the pandemic began.

However, it appears there may continue to be restrictions on hospital visits, with individual health boards and clinicians allowed to continue to limit the numbers and frequency of visits.

Masks will no longer be mandatory inside hospitals, but visiting will remain at the discretion of hospitals. Credit: PA

Addressing the final Welsh Government Coronavirus press conference, First Minister Mark Drakeford said it is a "clinical decision."

Mr Drakeford continued: "It is not a decision made by ministers, it is a decision made by people on the spot knowing the calculations they have to make between the vulnerability of the people they have on that ward, and the risks of the people who come into that ward with Coronavirus.

"With one in 50 people in Wales with Coronavirus, it means 80,000 people in Wales have got Coronavirus today.

"When people in hospitals make difficult decisions about restricting visiting, what they are doing is trying to minimise the chance of one of those 80,000 people who could walk onto the ward and end up infecting people for whom falling ill with Coronavirus would be an even more serious risk."

In recent months, rules around visitors have been relaxed slightly, however many health boards and hospitals continue to implement restrictions.

"Welsh Government has published renewed advice for hospitals and health boards across Wales, both in terms of general visiting but also specifically in the context of maternity care which we know has been a particularly difficult issue throughout the pandemic," Mr Drakeford continued.

"Our advice urges health boards to do as much as they can to allow visiting to take place in as normal a way as possible.

“But in the end, those decisions can only be made by doctors and nurses who are running those wards on the spot.”

Regular visits from family and friends are viewed as a vital part of many patient's recovery and rehabilitation while in hospital. Credit: PA

Pushed on whether now is the time to issue guidance on relaxing these measured further, the First Minister once again said he believes the decision should be one taken by hospital staff.

"What I want to see is consistency across different parts of Wales. I don’t want to see some places where there is a level of adversity to risk that in other parts of Wales would not be regarded in that way.

"In the end, would I rather the risk to the vulnerable person because of Coronavirus?

"A hundred people have died of Coronavirus in Wales in the month of May. This is still not a trivial illness.

"If a team of doctors and nurses in a ward come to the conclusion that visiting needs to be restricted, I would rather they come to that decision that you can come and visit on another day.

"You won’t be there if you’ve been exposed to Coronavirus and you don’t survive that experience."

Health boards have responded to the first minister's comments by saying they will now review their visiting policies.

Six of the seven said they will be reviewing their positions in the coming days, and will update staff and the public if their positions change.

Powys Teaching Health Board are the only health board that have not yet provided a comment.