Indoor and outdoor visiting – reconnecting residents and loved ones

Learn about the coronavirus (COVID-19) safeguards when going to see someone in an adult care home.

Care homes have a range of protections against coronavirus including:

These protections mean care home residents and their loved ones can have more regular time together.

Open with Care guidance supports meaningful contact between residents and loved ones. This guidance will be followed in care homes in all but exceptional circumstances.

This guidance is based on the best available advice from a range of experts. Family and friends of care home residents have also contributed to the guidance.

As we learn more about coronavirus, advice may change.

Visiting loved ones in care homes more often, and for longer

Care homes have been working towards increasing people’s time together. Residents’ contact with loved ones should continue to become more normal.

Seeing loved ones at the care home

Please speak to the care home about the level of visiting they are able to support safely. They’re likely to be moving towards daily visits or family groups. The number of visitors will be in line with wider coronavirus restrictions and practical factors in the care home.  There's now no need to have a named ‘designated visitor’. This is because residents’ contact should be getting closer to normal.

Visits may take place indoors or outdoors and should be arranged in advance with the care home. 

Garden and window visits might continue, depending on each resident’s wishes.

Outings and activities away from the care home

Additional guidance on activities and outings away from the care home is available. 

Care homes should support outings and activities that take place away from the home. But there still might be times when these aren’t possible. Reasons might include if there's a growing coronavirus outbreak in the care home.

Residents might wish to meet people outdoors, away from the care home. This could include:

  • going for a walk
  • meeting in a public place like a park or café
  • staying overnight with family

These should generally be supported unless there’s a good reason to be more cautious.

Outings will be a big change for many people, and care homes have to consider any risks to staff and residents. Residents, family and friends who want to plan outings or activities should work together with the care home team in advance.

The Open with Care guidance provides examples of how care homes can enable safe and meaningful visits, while being flexible.

Residents can take car trips out as long as they follow safety guidelines and use infection prevention and control measures.

It’s also possible for residents to visit other people in their homes or have overnight stays away. This could be in the resident’s own home or someone else’s home.

Care home residents are subject to the same coronavirus guidance as everyone else when meeting people away from the care home.

If you’re spending time with a resident outside of a care home, you should follow safety guidelines and the latest government advice.

Even if you’re planning to meet outdoors, anyone experiencing coronavirus symptoms, or symptoms of any other illness, should not meet up with care home residents.

Before visiting, please speak to the care home about whether you should take a coronavirus test in your own home or at the care home.

Changes to visiting arrangements

Visiting arrangements may change at times, depending on conditions in the care home or local area. For example, if there’s an outbreak in the care home visiting might be temporarily paused or reduced to only the nominated visitor residents. The care home will keep you up to date with these changes.

Essential visits should always continue.

Garden and window visits are also likely to always be supported.

Named visitor

The Scottish Government now recommends that adult care homes can start to support residents to have a ‘named visitor’. This means that when the home has a managed outbreak, it may be possible for you to visit your loved one.

You should not visit if you have coronavirus (COVID-19)

When can you visit during an outbreak?

The care home and the local health protection team will decide if the outbreak is managed. When an outbreak is managed, limited indoor visiting by a named visitor may be allowed. A risk assessment will have to be done before visiting can be allowed.

A managed outbreak means the care home and the local health protection team consider the outbreak to be controlled. They’ll make this decision based on factors such as:

  • the scale of the outbreak
  • the outbreak’s impact on the care home
  • care home staffing levels
  • infection prevention and control measures

What’s a named visitor?

Every resident can choose to nominate one person who can visit in them in their room during a managed outbreak. The named visitor can visit in most circumstances. A named visitor cannot visit if they:

  • have tested positive for coronavirus
  • are a close contact of a positive case

If you would like to be a named visitor, speak to your loved one and the care home manager or visiting coordinator.

Visiting during an outbreak

There are steps to follow if you are the named visitor and want to visit your loved one during an outbreak. Firstly, you should contact the care home first to see if it’s considered safe to visit. If it is considered safe, arrange your visit in advance with them.

When you visit, you should follow existing visiting advice, including:

During an outbreak, care home staff have a range of extra tasks to protect all residents. Please work with the care home team as they make arrangements to support named visitors.

It may take a short period for care homes to put these new arrangements in place. We ask you to work together while this happens.

Essential visits can continue at all times – they’re unaffected by named visitors.

When can I see a loved one in an adult care home during the pandemic?

Different types of visiting (or contact) is recommended for different situations.

Routine visiting

Routine visiting is meaningful contact, for example seeing your loved one daily or in groups. Routine visiting is recommended when there is no outbreak in a care home, or an outbreak is declared over.

Named visitor

A named visitor can visit an adult care home in all of the following situations:

  • there’s no outbreak
  • an outbreak has been declared over
  • a resident is isolating for precautionary reasons (such as after a hospital stay)
  • a resident is isolating because they’ve tested positive
  • the care home has a managed outbreak

Essential visiting

Essential visits can continue at all times and are not limited to one individual visitor.

Children and young people visiting

Children and young people can visit indoors or outdoors and should be included in any group size limits. This includes essential visits, where desired.

During essential visits, children and young people should follow advice from the care home on:

  • infection prevention and control
  • personal protective equipment

Organised groups of children and young people are not currently recommended to visit care homes. For example, community groups or choirs. This is due to the higher risk of infection from groups of unvaccinated people.

Essential visitors

Essential visitors are any family members or friends who visit a resident in pressing circumstances.

Pressing circumstances include:

  • where there is concern that the resident’s health and wellbeing is getting or will get worse
  • where visiting may help with communication difficulties
  • where visiting will ease significant personal stress or distress for the resident and/or their family
  • other pressing circumstances – for example, where there is concern that the resident may be approaching end of life

People providing spiritual care are also essential visitors, in urgent and non-urgent circumstances.

Essential visits should be supported at all stages of the pandemic. Care homes are asked to support these visits.

The care home manager should support essential visits in these circumstances. You can ask the care home manager or senior staff member for essential visits if you’re really concerned about the wellbeing of your loved one. These are unaffected by ‘routine’ indoor visits.

If there’s serious concern for the resident’s health and wellbeing

When there is a serious concern for the health and wellbeing of the resident, and/or they are approaching end of life, care home managers should discuss this with family members. They can then make a plan for the length of visits and how many people can visit at once.

If the resident is in distress

If the resident is in distress, an essential visitor may be needed. Distress means that the resident is showing signs of being depressed or withdrawn. It can also mean they are showing signs of anxiety – being anxious or restless. This applies whether or not the resident has a condition like dementia, or a learning difficulty.

If the resident may be approaching the end of their life

This is the time before a resident sadly passes away. This time isn’t limited to a few hours or the same day that the resident is expected to pass away. It could be a period of days, weeks, or months.

COVID-19 vaccinations

Coronavirus vaccines are safe and effective and have now been offered to all care home staff and residents.

It’s still important to follow safeguards when visiting even if you or your loved one has been vaccinated. This is because we're still learning about the coronavirus vaccine.

Read further information about the coronavirus vaccine

How decisions are made about visiting in care homes during the coronavirus pandemic

A group of experts in each area make recommendations about visiting safely in care homes. This is known as local oversight arrangements. The group includes experts in:

  • public health
  • nursing
  • infection prevention
  • health protection
  • social work

The care home manager makes decisions about visiting for their individual care home. They work to balance the safety and needs of the entire group of residents, and the safety and needs of each individual resident.

The care home manager considers factors such as:

  • current national advice for preventing coronavirus infection – for example, guidance around protection measures
  • advice from public health – for example, whether an outbreak is ongoing in their area
  • the type of care home – for example, whether or not the residents are mostly older people
  • the circumstances of individual visitors and residents

Raising concerns around visiting

If you’re unhappy with the visiting arrangements in your loved one’s care home, generally the first step is to talk to the care home.

Complaints processes

You may still have concerns after discussing the issue with the care home. In this situation, ask for your concern to be considered through their existing complaints processes. The care home will be able to tell you what these are.

Care Inspectorate

You can contact the Care Inspectorate if you have concerns about any aspect of the care provided. This includes concerns about visiting. You can:

  • contact the Care Inspectorate at any time – you do not have to go to the care home first
  • ask for your complaint or concern to be kept confidential
  • speak to them informally – you do not have to make a formal complaint to ask for help
  • speak to the inspector to share your concerns

The Care Inspectorate can provide you with advice and guidance. The inspector can also:

  • speak to the care home to help improve visiting arrangements, in confidence if you’d like
  • make sure the care home is following Open with Care guidance

Access further advice and support

For many people, reconnecting will be an emotional time.  A new Action on Rights team has been set up to help anyone with a loved one living in a care home to have meaningful visits. They offer practical and emotional support to anyone who needs it. This support is not only for families and friends of people living with dementia. It's for anyone needing support. The team will also work with care homes to help facilitate visits where appropriate.

You can reach the Action on Rights team by phoning the free 24 hour Alzheimer Scotland helpline on 0808 808 3000.

These helplines can provide information on visiting your loved ones in care homes. They can also give specialist advice on particular conditions:

Find more information

Read guidance on keeping everyone safe when visiting an adult care home

Read the latest Scottish Government guidance on care home visiting

Read the Care Inspectorate’s information for care home services 

Read information from Alzheimer Scotland on how care homes can support residents and their loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic