Nursing Times Award Winner

No one likes waiting but improving the quality of the wait can make a huge difference

Like most people I occasionally find myself despairing over the commercialization of Christmas. But though I might moan about the razzamatazz and the hype, if I’m honest I have to say that I do secretly love the bright lights, the glitter and the fun that is associated with the run-up to the big day. I’d hate it if the parties, the shopping and the carol singing were cancelled.

For Christians the pre-Christmas period of Advent is all about waiting for the coming of the Messiah. It’s a time of preparation, of longing and of hope. And for most children, looking forward to Christmas - writing to Santa, performing in the school nativity- is often almost as much fun as the day itself.

My point is that it is not how long we wait that matters. It is the quality of that wait that alters our perception of it all.

Waiting in a hospital A&E department isn’t the same as waiting for Christmas of course. But there are parallels.

Anyone, of any faith or nationality, can come to A&E to see a doctor. They may have to wait for hours. If they wait longer than four hours, the hospital is penalized. If they wait for 3 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds, senior management celebrates, even though that is too long. The NHS is obsessed with measuring precise waiting times - yet little if any attention is paid to what that wait actually feels like to patients and families.

We could learn a lot from the likes of Disney. At Disneyland people sometimes have to queue for hours for the most popular rides. So Disney have come up with lots of ways to make that wait more attractive and to keep their customers happy. I’m not suggesting that hospitals invite Disney characters to offer entertainment while you wait, but there are many other things that can be done to make the wait more bearable. Our website has many simple suggestions and examples, offered by patients, carers and staff from across the UK

For instance, through Kissing it Better, beauty therapy students at Further Education colleges across the country now do parts of their course in outpatients and on the wards - offering manicures and simple hand massages to waiting patients under the supervision of their tutors. Patients feel appreciated and are delighted by these simple, but relaxing treatments. Beauty therapists are trained to listen and many patients find the gentle conversation therapeutic.

Health and Social Care students hand out free magazines, simple quizzes, knitting, and crocheting, whilst others offer tea, coffee and other light refreshments to relatives and patients who have been advised that it is safe to eat.

Singers, performing familiar songs can do a lot to lift patients’ spirits. Music can be so therapeutic and a great distraction from the clinical atmosphere that is an inevitable part of a busy outpatient unit.

Some hospitals make waiting easier through simple changes – like offering different sizes and styles of chairs to patients who, naturally, also come in a variety of shapes, sizes and abilities!

Others have discreet, relaxing music in the background or imaginative paintings, photos, puzzles, colours and textures on the wall. Some use special lighting. Everything is designed to help the patients unwind.

One of the issues that seems to make the most difference to patients is how well the staff and volunteers communicate with them. Finding the time to talk to their patients - keeping the patient informed of how long they might have to wait, and making sure they know about any changes to that time - probably provides the best help of all.

Patients and relatives, in the main, respond well to any thoughtful idea that shows the hospital cares about them. These gestures, offered freely, are a great way of calming the nerves. And calm people, on the whole, are less inclined to complain. This, in turn, relaxes the staff and so the cycle of tension is broken

Of course it is important to reduce waiting times for patients, but for those who do have wait, time passes more easily when the atmosphere is relaxed.

Wishing you all a peaceful and relaxing Christmas

Jill Fraser

Jill Fraser

Inspire others: Submit your idea