Updated code maintains visitor rights

The revised visitor code for aged care homes protects residents from infection and social isolation.

Released on Monday, the revised visitor code for residential aged care reiterates that residents are always permitted to have at least one essential visitor – regardless of a Covid outbreak.

Craig Gear

Craig Gear – CEO of the Older Person’s Advocacy Network – told Australian Ageing Agenda there were still facilities ignorant of this.

“Some residential aged care homes are still unaware these guidelines exist – even though they have been reviewed and approved by peak provider organisations as well as consumer advocates,” he said. 

Those peaks and advocate organisations include:

  • Council on the Ageing Australia
  • Older Person’s Advocacy Network
  • Carers Australia
  • Dementia Australia
  • Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia
  • National Seniors Australia
  • Palliative Care Australia
  • Aged & Community Care Providers Association
  • Anglicare Australia
  • Baptist Care Australia
  • Catholic Health Australia
  • UnitingCare Australia.

First introduced in 2020 – the year the coronavirus pandemic hit – and finalised through public consultation, the Sector Code for Visiting in Aged Care adopts a human rights approach that aims to protect and respect both residents and their visitors.

And while the guts of the code remain unchanged, the latest revised version (7.2) has been simplified and updated to include:

  • the National Covid-19 Health Management Plan 2023
  • up-to-date vaccination advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation 
  • clarification of Communicable Diseases Network Australia guidance for isolation and release from isolation processes.

Perhaps, most importantly, the revised code maintains that: “All aged care residents, including those isolating, should have access to at least one essential visitor at all times … even during outbreaks or exposures.”

However, as Mr Gear told AAA, this isn’t always happening. “While most providers are facilitating essential visitors during outbreaks, OPAN is aware of a number of incidents in which residential aged care homes have instituted a disproportionate response to an outbreak of Covid or other viruses,” he said. “In one instance, a Partner in Care was refused access for over a week when the residential aged care home entered its third lockdown.” 

While the code isn’t mandatory, the Aged Care Quality & Safety Commission may take regulatory action where access for essential visitors “is not adequately supported”.

With Covid-19 still very much impacting the aged care sector – as of 29 June, there were 1,684 Covid cases in 260 aged care homes across Australia – Mr Gear told AAA it was vital residents were allowed to interact with family and friends.

“There is clear evidence that social isolation has a major, detrimental impact on older people’s physical, mental and nutritional health,” he said. “The revised industry code for visiting aged care homes provides clear guidelines for balancing the risk of infection with the damaging consequences of isolation.”  

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