Coronavirus (COVID-19): information on health services
This page contains information on health services in Northern Ireland, specifically the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on them and initiatives being undertaken to support patients.
Visiting hospitals and other care settings
Visiting arrangements for all care settings, including hospitals (including maternity), hospices and care homes are set out in the guidance at the following link:
The guidance is spread over two documents, with bespoke advice, depending on the category of care setting involved.
'A Pathway to Enhanced Visiting' sets out the current approach to visiting in hospices and hospitals - including Maternity and other services.
The restrictions are now in the “gradual easing” phase of this pathway. Visiting arrangements are as broadly as follows:
One daily visit, from up to two nominated individuals can be permitted at the same time, with the timing/ length of these visits agreed with the person in charge.
A chosen birth partner can accompany the pregnant woman:
- to any pregnancy-related appointments or ultrasound scans
- for induction of labour, duration of labour and birth
- for up to three hours after the birth
Where the woman is receiving inpatient care, one daily visit from up to two nominated individuals (from up to two households) is allowed.
One daily visit, from two nominated individuals at the same time, should be permitted.
However, in certain situations, hospices or Health and Social Care Trusts (HSCTs) may decide to reinstate some restrictions, for limited periods, to protect patients, families and staff.
This would include specific concerns about clinically extremely vulnerable patients or local incidents of infection outbreak in a hospice/ hospital and/ or evidence of rapidly increasing community transmission or outbreaks.
Hospices and all five HSCTs have agreed to follow a protocol for introducing and managing the duration of such additional restrictions.
You are recommended to read the full guidance document: 'A Pathway to Enhanced Visiting', at the link above and check the arrangements with the individual ward/ unit.
'Visiting with care - the new normal' sets out the agreed approach to visiting in care home settings.
It includes arrangements for the safe management of care home residents receiving visitors, as well as residents being able to visit other households, community facilities and take part in excursions.
This updated guidance document outlines the expected approach to visiting as we move past the worst stage of the pandemic management process and took effect on 1 September 2022.
It effectively removes all significant restrictions on visiting in those care homes not experiencing an outbreak, and sets out a risk assessed method of managing visiting during outbreaks.
You are recommended to read the full guidance document: 'Visiting with care - the new normal' at the following link and check the arrangements with the individual care home.
There are also care partner arrangements, in addition to the normal visiting arrangements above, for:
- hospitals and hospices
- care homes
Care partner arrangement are not simply another opportunity to visit. A care partner supports their relative/ loved-one with an identified need such as encouraging them to eat and drink, or engaging in meaningful social interactions to maintain good mental health.
A care partner is a defined practical role to give additional support to hospital/ hospice patients and care home residents which is complementary to the care delivered by the staff in the care setting. It is individualised and tailored to the needs of the patient/ resident.
A care partner will normally be a close family member or friend who has a long standing relationship with the person and plays an essential role on a regular basis on maintaining their health and wellbeing.
Each patient/ resident normally has up to two care partners, who can share the responsibility. Where special circumstances suggest additional care partners are necessary. this should be discussed and agreed with the care setting.
You are recommended to read the full information leaflet on the care partner scheme at the following link.
Hospitals, GP practices, dentists and pharmacies continue to provide care for those with health needs.
You should continue to seek advice from health and care professionals such as GPs, nurses and pharmacists.
Ignoring potential health problems or symptoms can have serious consequences, so it is vitally important that you do not delay in seeking help.
Health and Social Care remote sign language interpreting service
A free remote interpreting service for British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) users in Northern Ireland offers the deaf community access to health and social care services, including the NHS 111 helpline, during the COVID-19 pandemic. This service is provided by SignVideo.
Contacting NHS 111 using the interpreting service
To contact NHS111 using this service follow the link below:
This part of the service is a Video Relay System that enables Deaf people to telephone NHS 111 via a remote BSL or ISL interpreter.
You can contact the interpreter via the SignVideo app, using your smartphone or tablet, or via the secure video link using a computer. Once you are connected, the interpreter telephones NHS111 on the your behalf.
Contacting health and social care services using the interpreting service
To contact all other Health and Social Care services including your local GP, follow the link below:
It can be used to contact:
- Northern Ireland GPs and GP Out of Hours services
- hospitals for inpatient or outpatient queries (including independent/ private hospitals)
- all health services, for example, a dentist, optician, optometrist, community pharmacy
- all social care services, for example, a social work team, day centre, residential or nursing home (including independent/ private care facilities commissioned by HSC)
- ambulance services
This part of the service includes two elements:
- video relay system
- video remote interpreting
How Video Relay System works
This allows Deaf people to telephone a Health and Social Care service provider via a remote BSL or ISL interpreter.
You, the interpreter, and the Health and Social Care service provider can all be in different locations. You contact the interpreter via the SignVideo app, using your smartphone or tablet, or via the secure video link using a computer. Once you are connected, the interpreter telephones the Health and Social Care service provider on your behalf.
How Video Remote Interpreting works
This enables Deaf people to communicate with a Health and Social Care professional in person, via an online BSL or ISL video interpreter.
You and the Health and Social Care service provider are together in the same location, while the interpreter is online via secure video link on a screen.
Guidance for pregnant women and information on what is happening in their regional unit is available at:
Optometry practices are open and offering their full range of services, including HSC funded eye examinations and various enhanced services.
All optometry practices are providing these services in line with social distancing requirements and infection prevention and control guidance.
If you have any concerns about your eyes, including an urgent eye problem, or a query about your glasses or contact lenses, telephone your optometry practice first to discuss your concerns.
More information is available at the link below:
Dental practices are able to offer comprehensive dental care to patients.
Enhanced infection prevention and control procedures in place may result in a longer wait for an appointment.
Contact your local dental practice for advice and urgent dental care.
More information is available at: