Relatives of nursing home residents are considering legal action over the denial of window visits by some operators of long-term care facilities.
Majella Beattie, from advocacy group Care Champions, said families were engaging with human-rights solicitors as a “last resort” after repeated attempts to get access to loved ones.
“Window visits are permitted under all levels of lockdown,” she said.
“But we have been inundated with reports from families that they are not getting this access.
“We have a number of people who are going down the legal route as a last resort at this stage. They have begged, pleaded and protested and they have no other option.”
It is understood that several families are talking to human-rights lawyers with a view to initiating legal proceedings on behalf of residents who are allegedly being denied visiting rights.
Guidelines published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) permit outdoor and window visits at every level of Covid-19 restrictions.
“Window visiting” is where a person stands outside and speaks to a person at safe distance through an open window or by phone.
Ms Beattie said families had become increasingly frustrated by the disregard for the public health guidance over visits and that dialogue with some nursing homes on the issue had been very poor.
“The biggest issue is that a lot of the nursing homes do not know the guidance,” she said.
“We have relatives fighting for window visits and if they get one the window is closed, the person inside can’t hear and they are getting distressed.
“The window is permitted to be open as per the guidelines.
“This is a massive issue and we know from talking to families that this is extremely
Ms Beattie said there was an ongoing communication problem with nursing homes and that families were struggling to get information.
“They are standing outside banging on windows,” she said.
“Inside, the staff are overrun and they aren’t able to give them information.
“Some residents are end-of-life and the families are not getting proper updates. By the time they get in, the person no longer knows who they are.
“A lot of people in nursing homes have an elderly husband or an elderly wife at home and they are deteriorating through lack of contact.”
Sage, a charity that provides support and advocacy services for vulnerable adults and older people, said that it had received a substantial number of calls from family members around nursing home visits and, in particular, window visits.
“Window visits are a very poor substitute for the real thing but they are definitely better than nothing,” said Sarah Lennon, executive director of Sage.
“We’re very aware that some nursing homes have just imposed a blanket ban on window visiting, which is clearly not in the spirit of the HSE/HSPC guidelines.
“We understand that there is significant pressure on staff and there may be reasons and risks associated with it, but that is clearly not being communicated to the families who contact us. There are no reasons being given, just a refusal.
“The feedback is that not only is it causing stress, but also conflict with the nursing home.
“These kind of blanket bans aren’t giving the resident choice about when they see their family members.”