A health authority in Scotland has only reintroduced essential visits in all its hospitals and inpatient services.
NHS Lanarkshire said it was enforcing the restriction due to pressure on staff amid a surge in Covid cases and staff absenteeism.
Earlier this week, the Health Board announced that all GP practices will move to a “managed suspension of services”, meaning doctors will only focus on the most urgent and time-sensitive care, a move Scottish Labour’s MSP Jackie Baillie said , described as “unprecedented”.
Necessary visits only allow visits to patients for whom not seeing a family member would “cause particular distress or suffering,” according to the health department.
The restriction already applies to Wishaw University Hospital, but will apply from Friday to the region’s remaining hospitals: Hairmyres University Hospital and Monklands University Hospital, their community hospitals and all inpatient mental health/learning disability units.
NHS Lanarkshire nurse director Susan Friel said the decision was made to protect patients and staff and staff would use their professional judgment to consider when a visit would be allowed.
“We understand that patients are having a challenging time in the hospital and want to have their family and friends around for support,” she said.
“Unfortunately, our priority is to keep our patients and staff as safe as possible and as such we have made the difficult decision to limit visitation at this time.”
She said the restriction will be reviewed daily and once the health department decides it’s safe it will increase visiting hours by prioritizing access for those closest to the patient.
“We recognize that essential visits, which only allow visits to patients where not seeing a family member would cause particular distress or suffering, are not ideal, but are necessary for now.
“We hope everyone understands that this decision was made in the best interests of patients, other visitors and our staff.”
Ms Baillie commented on recent Health Board restrictions and took aim at the Scottish Government. She said the SNP needed to “urge to move forward and support NHS Lanarkshire through this historic crisis and come up with a real recovery plan for our NHS”.
She said: “These new rules will be a huge blow to patients and their loved ones.
“This difficult decision is a further sign of the immense pressure NHS Lanarkshire is struggling to cope with.
“We need to get services up and running again so these restrictions can be lifted as soon as possible or we risk loneliness and isolation hampering patient care.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Health Secretary is in regular contact with NHS Lanarkshire – including several times this week – and we continue to support the Health Board with additional funding and any other support that it may require.
“However, this is the toughest winter on record for the NHS and to help us protect urgent and critical care tough decisions are being made that will only remain in place for as long as absolutely necessary.
“Our overriding priority during the pandemic has been to protect and protect patients and staff, and we know how difficult it is for families who are unable to be with loved ones.”
Responding to Ms Baillie’s comments, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf highlighted the Government’s “range of measures” she has put in place to help people with Covid stay at home, including new remote monitoring tools and a new NHS 24 Call center.
He added: “Modeling suggests that infections and associated staff absenteeism due to the coronavirus could peak by mid-January and treating more people who may have previously been hospitalized at home with antivirals and appropriate support is essential to free up capacities in our hospitals.
“All of this builds on work already underway as part of our £300m investment in health and care services as part of the winter preparations.
“This includes £62million to target better home care services – a national priority alongside the NHS and emergency services.”
In response to the high levels of vacancies in social care, Mr Yousaf spoke about the Scottish Government’s new scheme which will pay entry costs for people entering the sector by March, adding: “We will continue to work closely with our partners to to identify all possible ways to support the sector in recruiting and retaining workers – which has been vital to our response to the pandemic – at this critical time.
“We are in daily contact with each board and are closely monitoring the situation and local contingency plans are in place to focus on reallocating available clinical and support services staff to essential services.”