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Helpful advice on admission to hospital. A personal view from a relative

When a family member is admitted to hospital, it is often a very stressful time for relatives, especially if a loved one is admitted as an emergency.

If the admission is planned, patients should have received a letter advising them what to bring with them. If they are admitted as an emergency, the family may well require extremely sensitive support when they arrive on the ward. Whatever the case, most patients and relatives appreciate the chance to spend a few moments with the ward manager, or whoever is in charge, so they can get some sense of what is going to happen and what may be required of them. Those few precious moments of gentle explanation may prevent a great deal of misunderstanding occuring during the patient's stay on that ward and hugely improve the feelings the family may have towards the staff.

Here are a few examples of information that can make the world of difference...

Once the patient is settled and the relatives are happy that everything is being done for them, it can be extremely helpful if a member of the nursing staff takes time to reassure the relatives that the patient is in the best possible place. If the relatives are given the ward number at this stage and encouraged to ring at any time if they have any particular worries, they will feel appreciated and comforted that the staff have their best interests at heart.

For any admission, but particularly when someone admitted via accident and emergency, relatives may have lost their bearings once they reach the ward, especially if they are anxious. A clear map of the hospital, with the ward clearly marked, can be extremely helpful, especially if the nurse identifies the best place to park if the hospital has more than one car park.

Information about car park charges is also important. Many hospitals offer weekly passes which work out considerably cheaper than buying tickets each day. A pass also saves endless time queuing to pay at the end of each visit. At our local hospital, I eventually found out that it was best to arrive a few minutes before visiting time started to ensure a place in the car park. If visiting starts during office hours, car parks are often full of cars belonging to staff members and outpatients and it only takes a few visitors to fill it up. It would have been helpful if staff had advised me of this before I spent a frustrating half hour trying to park at the busiest time of the day.

Visiting times are usually written clearly at the entrance to the ward. It is useful to be told if the the ward can be flexible. Sometimes, people work unusual hours and may find it easier to come in slightly earlier than the normal times. Although some hospital insist on 'protected mealtimes' it may be possible for a relative to come in and help feed a patient who is having difficulty feeding themselves.

Knowledge of where the nearest toilets are located is useful...for obvious reasons. A tired relative who is about to start a long journey home does not want to spend precious moments searching the corridors for a 'loo'.

Information about cafes and canteens is also extremely helpful. Opening times and an idea of the kind of meals on offer can make the world of difference to relatives who may have rushed in after work and not had time to stop for something to eat. Our hospital has a cafe and a juice bar but no one told me about them for weeks. The location of the nearest vending machine is also useful for relatives who may arrive late at night when the cafe and dining room may be closed.

Some hospitals advise patients to have small change available for newspapers and other items from the hospital shop. The patient may want to watch television and some hospitals charge for this service. It can be extremely helpful for staff to take the time to ensure patients understand how the charging system works. I bought 12 hours of TV time for my mother but didn't realise the entire amount could be used up over one night, even if the television wasn't on.

Relatives are nearly always keen to do whatever they can for the patient but may be too worried to think clearly. It is therefore hugely helpful if nursing staff can, gently, give them an idea of the kind of things they should be bringing in. A simple bag of toileteries, an electric razor, night clothes, a family photograph, a hairbrush or comb, tissues, a mirror, a small selection of magazines, a favourite drink (if allowed), may seem obvious to the staff but an anxious relative may not work it out. I remember being moritfied when I was told that I had forgotten to bring in an hairbrush for my mother.

It can be helpful for patients and relatives to know when the Consultants are likely to be on the ward and whether they can make an appointment to see them. Staff should gently advise them that it may be helpful for them to make a list of questions before the meeting so that no time is wasted and nothing is forgotten.


This may seem obvious, but staff should gently let the relatives know if there is anything practical they can do to help the patient. Many relatives and friends are desperate to do anything they can to feel useful. When my mother was ill, I was told that gently massaging her hand would be soothing and reassuring for her. Although she could not speak, I asked her permission and she smiled. I then wrote a message on her notice board asking any visitor to ask that same question if they wanted to. Some people may feel uncomfortable about doing certain things and they need to know that that is quite understandable, but it is good to have the choice.

Once the patient has settled into the ward, they may be well enough to enjoy music. An I-pod, CD player or small DVD player can provide hours of enjoyment and a distraction from the worries of a hospital stay. It shouldn't be a problem to bring in small pieces of electrical equiment as long as they reach the required safety standards. and do not annoy other patients. It should be possible to get equipment portable appliance tested (PAT) to ensure its safety.. Also ask about mobile phones.

Some hospital allow pets onto the ward, especially if it is a rehabilitation unit. If the pets are not allowed on the ward, check if they can be brought into the corridor, a day room or the garden. Many patients worry about their pets and it can be hugely beneficial to their recovery if they have the chance to see them during their stay.

Nursing staff should be able to advise patients and relatives about any classes, therapies or entertainment available in the hospital. Knowing how to listen to the hospital radio, and when it is available, can also offer a welcome distraction to patients.

Nurses should also be aware of all the services offered by the volunteer department and should direct relatives to any information about that facility. In some hospitals, volunteers can help in countless ways, including driving friends and relatives to hospital or with feeding patients. It is extremely irritating to find out that you missed out on a service that could have been so helpful simply because you didn't know about it.

The timing of religious services or visits from the hospital chaplain, or any other religious leader, can be of huge benefit.

A quick and simple tour of the ward can be very reassuring and helps give relatives a sense of where they are. It may be obvious to the staff that there are a selection of games, DVDs and videos in the day room, but patients and relatives may not know about them. With the permission of the staff, these facilities can often be enjoyed by young visitors (patients should take priority) allowing older relatives special time with their loved ones.

Some hospitals allow relatives to bring in special food for the patient. One evening, I was allowed to bring in fish and chips for my mum. She loved it. Again, check first as the patient may be on a special diet.

These ideas are based on my personal experience of being an extremely worried relative. Over the years several close family members have been admitted to various hospitals and, in nearly every case, I struggled to find out information that should have been offered to me when I first arrived on the various wards. In most cases, I eventually worked most of it out for myself, but a few minutes of a busy nurse's time shouldn't have been too much to ask for and would have saved me a huge amount of anxiety. It would have also improved my relationship with the staff as I would have felt reassured, from the outset, that they had my best interests at heart.

If anyone reading this has other thoughts to add, please e-mail us at


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