Information about communication and visiting

Updated: 19 July 2021

Visiting at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust

The period of COVID-19 has been a very difficult time for patients, visitors and staff in terms of restricting face to face visiting and reducing the risk of infection in our hospitals.  We thank you for your understanding and keeping other patients and staff safe from infection.

From 6 September 2021 new visiting guidelines will be introduced at the Royal Free London. Below are the details of visiting that we will facilitate at Barnet Hospital and the Royal Free Hospital. Visiting guidelines for Chase Farm Hospital, where visiting is not currently facilitated, will be provided at a later date. 

Pre-booked visiting

For adult in-patients (except for those who are on a ward where covid patients are being cared for, for those on a surgical ward and for those who are immune-supressed) pre-booked visiting can be facilitated. The visit will be limited to one hour for one visitor per day (who remains the visitor permitted for that patient for the duration of their admission); a patient cannot have different visitors on different days of the week.

The process you will need to follow for visiting a patient:

  • Speak to the ward staff to book a suitable time slot for visiting. You can contact the ward via our switchboard - the details are here
  • On the day of the visit, complete a lateral flow test at home before attending the hospital and report the result on the government’s website. If the result is negative and you are not a contact of someone who is covid positive you can proceed with the visit. If the test is positive you must not attend the hospital and should follow the government guidance.
  • Please bring evidence of the negative lateral flow test with you to the hospital (either a print-out or on your mobile phone).
  • When you arrive at the front entrance, inform the security team of your name and the name of the patient you are visiting. 
  • Wear a face mask before entering the hospital
  • Wash hands/apply hand gel as you enter the hospital
  • Complete the visitor contract and the latest screening questionnaire which you will receive at the ward and show the staff member your negative lateral flow test
  • Maintain social distancing from staff and patients (except the patient you are visiting)
  • Please discuss future visits with the ward staff
  • Wash/gel hands as you leave the ward.

In-patients – Compassionate Visiting

Compassionate visiting for adult in-patients means that visiting of one family member for at least one hour can occur daily if the patient meets the following criteria:       

  • They are dying (last days and hours of life)
  • They have a mental health issue, such as dementia, a learning disability or autism
  • Where the attendance of a key contact will benefit a patient's clinical condition or wellbeing  (ward staff will get in touch if a visit will be beneficial)
  • Children and young people (See below)
  • Maternity (see below)

In-patients – Enhanced carer visiting

Enhanced carer visiting is offered for people who pre this hospital admission where the main carer for a patient with dementia, a learning disability, autism or at end of life. The visit can be for longer than an hour and will be agreed by the nurse in charge, and will be to ensure the patient and carer can have their needs met.


A partner / companion may attend all early pregnancy unit, obstetric ultrasound and antenatal clinical appointments. A nominated partner may attend for induction of labour and latent phase of labour, extended throughout the 24 hour period during the daytime and overnight. A doula can be permitted in the labour room in place of the partner / companion. Both antenatal and post natal women on the ward can have a visit from their partner either between 9am-1pm or 2pm-6pm.  On the ward the woman will be advised at the time which slot is available to them and their partner.

Children and young people

We encourage the involvement of parents/carers in all aspects of their child's care. With the restrictions on space and the need to maintain social distancing we ask that only one parent/carer stays with their child in both the emergency department (ED) and the ward. Where parents/carers need to swap over to give the resident parent a break we ask that you do this outside of ED or the ward area. Your co-operation is much appreciated.  Siblings are not currently permitted to visit.

Emergency department

We are currently accommodating our patients’ needs for a companion as much as possible but we need to do this as safely as possible for everybody and also take account of over-crowding in the department.  Those attending with minor injury or illness will be expected to do so alone.  However, one close family contact is permitted to accompany a patient to support them with complex/difficult decision making if: 

  • The patient is a child
  • The patient has dementia
  • The patient has a learning disability
  • The patient lives with mental ill health
  • The patient attends with major injury or illness

Neuro-rehab centre at Edgware Hospital

In the long stay neuro-rehabilitation center the patient can have two named visiting contacts.  The two named contacts must be part of the same household or social bubble and only one visitor can visit per day in the garden at an agreed timeslot with the ward sister or nurse in charge.

Out-patient departments

If you are visiting one of our hospitals or clinics for an appointment, only bring someone to accompany you if absolutely necessary.  You will need to wear a face mask when visiting the hospital

If you or someone you live with has COVID-19 (coronavirus) or any symptoms of it, you cannot visit the ward. If you are not sure, please speak to a member of staff. Symptom information and advice on what to do next is available

General advice for patients and visitors

Please remember that if you, or someone you live in the same house as, experiences coronavirus symptoms – a new, continuous cough, a high temperature and/or loss of smell or taste – please do not visit the hospital.  Self-isolate and visit NHS 111 online for further advice.

All patients and visitors to our hospitals will need to wear a face mask and are asked to wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap and water as soon as they enter the hospital and when they leave. Frequent handwashing is effective at reducing the spread of infection.

Thank you for your co-operation and help in respecting these changes.

What to expect if you are allowed to visit a patient on a ward

Anyone who is showing symptoms of coronavirus (a new continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of taste or smell) should not visit, even if these symptoms are mild or intermittent, due to the risk they pose to others.

Before you arrive

The visit will need to be arranged in advance and you will be given instructions on where to go and who to ask for on your arrival. 

You must wear a facemask.

It is a good idea to write down any questions you have before arriving at the hospital as you may forget. You can also bring in cards / letters from loved ones.

You will be allowed to bring a mobile phone with you but please bring as few belongings as possible to minimise the risk of infection.

You should remove outer clothing eg. coat or jacket and leave these with the person who has brought you in, if you can. Please then roll up your sleeves.

You should wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds on arrival at the hospital. Frequent handwashing is effective at reducing the spread of infection. There are also hand sanitising points around the hospital, please feel free to use them.

We practice social distancing where possible in the hospital and you will be asked to adhere to this during your visit although on the ward you will witness that this is not always possible when caring for patients.

If you need to wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) for your visit, you should consider going to the toilet and having a small drink before putting it on, as this helps to avoid the need to put on and take off PPE more than once during the visit.  PPE will usually consist of gloves, gown, mask and a visor and is used in areas including the intensive care unit and some respiratory wards.

Arriving on the ward

As part of our measures to help keep our hospitals safe, you may need to have your temperature taken and be asked some questions about your general health (for example if you have experienced any COVID-19 symptoms) before being allowed to enter the hospital/ward.

You will be informed about what to expect when you see your loved one. We will also ask you to read and sign our visitors code of conduct, which sets out some important infection prevention and control information that you will need to follow.

You will be provided with appropriate PPE by staff and guided on where to clean your hands, how to put on the PPE and how to maintain social distancing between visitors, staff and other patients.

If you are not clear about the PPE please ask the staff supporting you.

Please ensure that you tell staff if you have any allergies to latex.

During your visit

Our staff will do what they can to support you during your visit and will advise you of any risks of visiting.

Please follow all instructions given by our staff, they will guide you to remove all PPE appropriately.

All visitors to our hospitals are asked to wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap and water when they leave. Frequent handwashing is effective at reducing the spread of infection.

When you leave

As long as PPE is worn, you will not need to self-isolate after the visit, unless you have been to the intensive care unit, where the mask cannot be specifically fitted.  You will be advised of this by ward staff when arranging your visit.

You should stay at least 2 metres away from others as you leave the ward/hospital and avoid touching any surfaces.

Leave the ward/hospital as quickly as possible, using the most direct route, and go straight home.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Cover any coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin.

Wash your hands again with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as soon as you get home.

Follow stay at home guidance if you become unwell.

Communication between patients and family and friends

We recognise that the visiting restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the ability for some patients to communicate with  their family and friends.  We are asking patients who they would like as their ‘Key Contact’ so that staff can provide regular updates on their progress. If the patient cannot communicate, we will review the information recorded in the patient’s notes and ask the family/friends/carers to nominate the Key Contact.

We would ask that the person nominated as the Key Contact liaise with the rest of the patient’s family and friends.

Our ward teams are extremely busy, and will endeavour to answer telephone calls as soon as possible. To help us, please only contact the ward team if you are a patient's named key contact. Please liaise with the person nominated as the key contact for more information and updates. 

Virtual consultation with patient and family/friends/carers

The visit will be instigated by the medical, nursing or therapy teams, in response to the patient’s clinical situation / discharge plan, or because the Key Contact has specific questions to be discussed with the hospital teams in the presence of the patient.  This consultation will need to be arranged in advance and you will be given instructions on date, time and mode e.g. via Zoom, FaceTime or via the hospital remote consultation app ‘Attend Anywhere’.

It is a good idea to write down any questions or concerns that you have before the virtual consultation so you don’t forget any important issues.

Please also note that you are within your rights to record the video call, with staff and patient consent, and with the understanding that the images will not be made public. If the patient is unconscious and cannot give consent, then recording permission is at the discretion of staff.

Interpreting during a virtual consultation is available

We recognise that patients, relatives and carers with a day-to-day understanding and use of English may have difficulty with complex medical language and giving informed consent for procedures.

The trust offers an interpreting service, provided by an external company, who use carefully screened and qualified interpreters, offering a strictly confidential service in a wide range of languages. 

We have access to a telephone interpreting service 24/7.  We can facilitate 1-way interpreting telephone calls, where you are on-site with the patient and staff.  We can also facilitate 3-way interpreting telephone and video calls, where you are at home and need to be connected to staff and the patient with an interpreter on the line. 

Tips for a successful interpreting session

Think of the interpreter as a human language link, helping communication between languages and cultures.  Make sure you direct your questions to the staff, as opposed to the interpreter.

Let the interpreter know the information that you want to find out.

Go through your questions as methodically as possible.

Understand that there may be some delay before the interpreter can get the information you need from the staff.

Be aware that different languages often require a different number of words.