While visitor restrictions in hospitals due to COVID-19 have recently been removed, health services are able to tailor their own settings based on individual circumstances. This means that there still may be restrictions on visiting numbers and hours at some Victorian hospitals.
While these restrictions protect vulnerable patients and hospital staff, they can cause distress and anxiety for people affected by cancer during an already difficult time.
“Visitor restrictions have put a great strain on our family and meant we couldn’t be there to visit dad together as a family.” – Mel, daughter of bowel cancer patient.
Principles for visitor arrangements
Current visitor arrangements for hospitals and care facilities are informed by a set of guiding principles developed by the Victorian Department of Health. These help to explain why restrictions may continue to be in place, and aim to balance access to support from loved ones with providing health services in a safe and effective manner during COVID-19.
Key principles include:
- visitors are an essential part of providing care and support
- visitors are critical for improving the patient's emotional, physical and mental wellbeing
- visitors help to maximise effective communication between the patient and their health care team
- safety is important for patients, staff and visitors
- current measures minimise the risk of transmitting infection and protect vulnerable patients from potential exposure to COVID-19
- exemptions to visitor arrangements may be authorised as required
- hospitals may provide equipment, such as phones or computers, to allow patients to stay connected with their loved ones
- hospitals should ensure that visiting arrangements are easily accessible, for example on websites and social media.
Practical tips for patients and carers
There are practical steps carers, friends and family can take to feel connected and informed about the treatment and care their loved one is receiving. Top tips include:
- nominate one caregiver that is the main contact point for the hospital
- get to know your treating team, their roles and responsibilities, and best contact numbers (including for after-hours assistance)
- arrange an interpreter if you need one
- call ahead to check specific visitor restrictions for your hospital
- make sure patients receive written discharge instructions when leaving hospital such as for medication dosage, wound care and pain management
- for those in palliative care, ask if special considerations can be made as required
- encourage the patient to set up an Advance Care Plan
- to escalate unresolved concerns, ask for the patient advocate
- call our cancer nurses on 13 11 20 for information and support.
Download fact sheet to learn more
Frequently asked questions
Am I eligible to visit someone in hospital?
As long as you meet the visitor arrangements set out by the hospital, you are able to visit if you are providing essential care and support to your loved one. This means you are there to assist their emotional or physical wellbeing.
A carer or caregiver is someone who provides ongoing unpaid care and support to a person who needs this assistance because of a disease such as cancer, a disability, mental illness or because they are ageing. You may be a partner, family member, child, friend or neighbour. Learn more about caring for someone with cancer.
Do I have to be fully vaccinated and/or show a negative Rapid Antigen Test to visit?
The following recommendations have been set by the Victorian Department of Health for people visiting hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- visitors over 18 need to be fully vaccinated or provide a negative rapid antigen test on the day of visitation and wear a mask
- visitors under 18 need to be fully vaccinated or provide a negative rapid antigen test of the day of visitation
- visitors under 16 are permitted entry if they are visiting a patient who has a life-threatening medical condition, is receiving palliative care or if they are a child, grandchild or sibling of the patient. They are not counted in the number of visitors if they are visiting a patient having end-of-life treatment or if they are a child, grandchild or sibling of the patient.
Hospitals may also have additional rules and restrictions in place.
When am I not allowed to visit someone in hospital?
The Victorian Department of Health advises that you should not visit someone in hospital if you:
- have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are required to isolate
- have had contact with a person who has COVID-19 in the previous 7 days, are fully vaccinated and have not produced a negative PCR or rapid antigen test
- have had contact with a person who has COVID-19 in the previous 14 days, are not fully vaccinated and have not produced a negative PCR or rapid antigen test
- have been tested for COVID-19 and have not had the results given to you
- do not meet the requirements to gain access to visit a patient in hospital
- have a temperature higher than 37.5 degrees or symptoms of acute respiratory infection such as breathing difficulties, a cough, sore throat and/or runny nose.
Restrictions may also apply for people who have returned from overseas. Stay up-to-date with the latest information here.
Are there exemptions for visitor restrictions?
There are limited circumstances where a person who would be excluded from entering a hospital may be authorised by the hospital to enter. Any exceptions to entry requirements are made by the hospital. Exceptions may include:
- a person receiving end of life care
- a person who is a parent, carer or guardian of a patient
- a person who is a support person or partner of a pregnant patient of the hospital
- a person who is an immediate family member of a patient whose medical condition is life threatening
- a person providing professional care
- a carer or nominated person where rapid antigen testing prior to entry is not practical
- a person who has a negative PCR result 24 hrs prior to entry to the hospital
- a person that has illnesses or conditions which make vaccination and rapid antigen testing unsuitable
- a person that is not safe in all circumstances to have vaccination and or rapid-antigen testing.
What can I do to prepare for visiting someone in hospital?
Speak with your treating team or the nurse in charge about the best time of day to visit when the patient is available and most alert.
Alternatively, you may want to organise your visit when the treating team is doing rounds and visiting the patient. This can vary so it’s best to call ahead and speak with the nurse in charge as to when this is going to take place.
What rules should I follow when I'm in the hospital?
To keep patients and staff safe, visitors must comply with all screening and infection control measures put in place by the hospital as outlined by the Department of Health:
- visitors to any care facility across Victoria must wear a face covering
- even with a face covering, you should keep at least 1.5 meters apart from others
- wash your hands after using lifts, holding railings and every time you enter and exit the patient’s room
- follow rules about visitor and time limits if present
- try to stay in the patient's room and limit movement around the hospital, apart from quick trips to the bathroom or to purchase food
- limit the number of personal items you bring into the hospital
- follow rules about wearing specific masks, gloves or gowns if requested by staff
- hospital staff will help you follow these conditions to help keep your family members or friends safe.
Other ways carers can protect patients and staff in hospitals – as well as yourself - is to make sure you are up to date with your vaccinations including flu, chicken pox and over 65 vaccines. Ask your doctor for advice.
Now is also a good time to stop smoking. Evidence suggests people who smoke are more likely to develop infection with COVID-19 and experience its symptoms. The combination of a reduced immune system and the impacts of smoking or vaping on the lungs, including inflammation and poor lung function, means people who smoke are quite likely to be at a higher risk of illness. For information and advice contact Quitline on 13 78 48.
How can I stay connected if I can't visit someone in hospital?
If you can’t be at the hospital for specialist appointments, day cancer units or when the treating team is visiting patients on their ‘rounds of the ward’, carers can ask to be contacted via telehealth.
Either the patient can ask to call or FaceTime using their mobile device or if the patient doesn’t have one, they’re in poor health or don’t know how, ask your treating team if they can assist. Some hospitals have devices and may have support staff or volunteers to help set up the connection.
Ask if this can be set up as a standing arrangement for all appointments and medical briefings or contact the nurse in charge in the morning to confirm this arrangement.
Find out more about telehealth for cancer patients and carers. You can also learn about making the most of a doctor's appointment, including preparation beforehand and our question checklist.
How can I keep track of medical information and instructions for the person I'm visiting?
“Dad had major surgery, he wasn’t eating, he was nauseous, he was tired and was trying to take in a lot of medical information he didn’t necessarily understand.” - Mel, daughter of bowel cancer patient.
Regardless of whether you’re the patient or the carer, medical information and instructions very quickly begin to pile up, and over time it’s very easy to lose track or become confused.
It’s useful to keep a record or diary of conversations, medications, side-effects and make a note of questions as you think of them that you can reference at your next appointment. This is valuable during appointments with specialists where you expect to receive important information such as test results or detailed instructions such as at discharge.
Ask your treating team to write down important instructions to reference later or ask if you can record the discussion on your mobile phone or via video conferencing if using. This is particularly helpful where English isn’t your first language, you have low literacy, a disability, or you’re sharing caring duties with others.
Most phones have a voice recording app pre-installed, like ‘Voice Memos’ on iPhones or ‘Voice Recorder’ on Android and video conferencing programs allow you to record sessions. Ask for permission before taking a recording.
There are also various health apps you can download to your smart phone that allow you to keep track of your health information:
- The Australian Government’s My Health Record allows you to access your health information and add your own information including an advance care plan. Australian Digital Health Agency has information about the safe use of apps and a list of apps that connect to My Health Record.
- CancerAid is an Australian app developed by cancer specialists that helps you keep track of your treatments, experiences and side effects.
- Thrivor provides patients with a better way to manage appointments, communications and payments.
Other support apps include:
- Gather My Crew is a free online rostering tool that assists you to coordinate help with family and friends.
- CanDo app is a free tool that lets family and friends what they can do to help.
What can I do if I have an issue with the treating team?
Where you’ve been unable to resolve an issue directly with the treating nurse, medical team or nurse unit manager, ask to speak to the manager of the area or contact patient liaison (also called consumer liaison or patient advocate) services.
You can also find this information on the hospital’s website under ‘feedback’ or ‘contact us’, or search for ‘complaint’.
Unresolved health complaints can be directed to the Victorian Health Services Commissioner. This is an independent statutory authority established to receive and resolve complaints about health service providers. It is free and confidential. Call 1300 582 113.
Why is it important to get a written discharge and briefing?
At discharge make sure the patient has been given a written plan with clear instructions for post hospital care including wound care products if needed. This will help you feel prepared for caring for the patient after they leave the hospital. It should include follow up care, medications and dosage, instructions for pain management, symptoms to look out for and emergency contact details.
Your treating team should take the patient and ideally a carer through these instructions and give you the opportunity to ask any questions.
Should I consider community based or hospital in the home services?
Hospital in the home (HITH) or community health services may be an option for patients to receive care or treatment from home, or other suitable location. Some of the services that can be provided at home are chemotherapy, wound care, antibiotics and palliative care.
There’s no additional charge for HITH patients. They’re regarded as hospital inpatients, care is coordinated by their treating team, and the patient has 24-hour contact with the hospital.
Victoria also has a network of state-funded community health services that deliver a range of primary health, human services and community-based support including helping patients recover at home after leaving hospital. Patients will generally receive a clinical nurse consultant as a key contact for at-home support. Referral to the program is arranged by your hospital when you are being discharged or through your GP. Ask your treating team if this is an option for you. For a list of local health services visit the Victorian Government’s Community Health Directory.
There is also home-based health support available through Commonwealth Government funded services for older people (aged 65 and over, and Aboriginal people aged 50 and over). An assessment for eligibility is needed. More information can be found at My Aged Care assessment services.
What are palliative care services in the home?
Palliative care services are available in different settings depending on your situation. Many people want to die at home surrounded by their loved ones, and this is particularly relevant during COVID-19 hospital visitor restrictions.
The federal, state and territory governments fund core palliative care services so that they are free in the public health system, whether you receive care at home or in a public setting. However, sometimes you may need to contribute to the costs of care for things like specialist equipment and 24-hour nursing staff.
Everyone has the right to palliative care services in the home and hospitals and your treating team can refer you to community-based palliative care. These provide 24 -hour access to support including a number to call or regular visits from a palliative care nurse. Palliative care services provide a range of support from a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) including symptom and pain management and psychological counselling.
To find out what is available in your area, speak to your health care providers, contact your local palliative care organisation using the directory of services or call us on 13 11 20.
Other information and support are available from:
Where can I get support?
Anyone affected by cancer - patients, carers, family, friends, workplaces or health professionals – can call us on 13 11 20 for free and confidential information and support. We also have an interpreter service on 13 14 50.
Many of our nurses are practicing oncology nurses who are available to discuss your COVID-19 concerns, answer any cancer-related questions, help you navigate the heath system, and connect you with more than 470 support services around Victoria.
Our cancer nurses can also refer eligible patients and carers to counselling support services to assist people who may not otherwise be able to access or afford specialist support.
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The information on this webpage was last updated in May 2022.