OPINION: Health bosses must realise wards aren't best for convalescence

Occupations -- Professional -- Medical
Nrsing staff and patients in the Surgical Ward at the

The surgical ward at the West Norwich Hospital in the 1950s. Rachel Moore says a ward is no place for people to recover from illness - Credit: Archant

Is there anything more dignity stripping, impersonal and disruptive than a hospital ward?

Hospitals house the most sophisticated life-saving technology, top brilliant medical minds and gold-standard care, yet patients are still herded together in wards like boarding school dormitories from times long past.

Seriously sick, anxious and even dying people, who need rest and peace to deal with the whole gamut of health conditions are in beds in what can feel like a city centre roundabout than a place of care and recuperation.

Lines of beds with sick patients eyeball to eyeball with only the flimsiest privacy of a thin curtain, from behind which every word and movement can be heard by the five or so other patients is happening in hospitals the length and breadth of the country.

All very Carry on Matron when it should be Tomorrow’s World.

At the very time when patients need rest to heal from the effects of surgery, infection, disease, heart attack or stroke, wards are the loudest least restful places more akin to a 24/7 airport, the hubbub of voices, clanking of trolleys and fluorescent lighting. A ward, even just six beds, is the last place conducive with finding necessary peace for recovery.

We all know sleep is key to health and recuperation and much under-valued. Patients are deprived when they need it most.

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For staff, it’s probably easier to nurse a room full of patients than individuals in the comfort of their own rooms with closed doors.

They have a clearer overview and, crucially today, can manage on fewer staff, but it’s perplexing why greater fuss hasn’t been made about changing this outdated format, despite two thirds of patients voting with their feet – surgical stockinged feet – would prefer single rooms.

But the British are very good at moaning to each other when systems don’t work, then put up with it rather than demand change.

Everyone who has spent time in hospital has tales to tell of the disturbances, exposure, and even fear, they have felt, which adds to the trauma of what put them there in the first place.

Covid spread like wild-fire through wards during the pandemic, which finally rang alarm bells that crowding patients together was far from fit for purpose in modern Britain.

Finally, after thousands of patients caught Covid in hospital, Prof Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, is advising that single rooms should become the default in hospitals to offer “privacy and dignity” for patients, on top of supporting infection control and reducing the spread of respiratory disease post-pandemic.

Infection control has found to be hopeless in a traditional ward setting, with poor quality ventilation and close contact.

Nearly 12,000 people caught Covid in hospital during the first wave in 2020. Like buildings without fire doors, wards facilitate the spread.

In what is believed to be the first time NHS England has called for a single hospital bed model, Mr Powis is pushing hospitals to “think hard” about single rooms in hospitals of the future.

There are plans for 40 new hospitals across the UK by 2030, but it is unclear if single bed rooms will be the preferred a model. This probably means not, especially as staff need to be prepared and rehearsed to care effectively and efficiently for patients differently.

And nothing has been done in the last 19 years since architects advising the Department of Health suggested all new hospitals should have single be rooms with en suite facilities for every patient.

Back in 2002, architects told health officials that patients would recover quicker from surgery because they would get better nights’ sleep be less likely to catch infections in private rooms.

The report said: “The physical barrier between patients helps to prevent infections and results in less cross-infection” Nurses could monitor patients in clusters of rooms with glass fronts for two-way vision.

Back then, the Department of Health said it was reviewing the document

“Changes cannot happen overnight” a nursing leader told the Nursing Standard in 2002. That may well be, but still being in the same position nearly 20 years later post pandemic when hospitals were proven super-spreaders takes the biscuit.

Companies only have themselves to blame

Onslaught upon onslaught of warnings about scam emails and calls has created such a pique of fear we’re ignoring genuine emails.

Such is our fear and the white noise of scam warnings, we blank out and refuse to touch with a barge pole any unsolicited emails or calls just in case.

One in three of us is so worried about clicking on potentially dangerous links in emails in case we get sucked into a scam and now we prefer to overlook what might be important genuine emails to be on the safe side.

If it’s genuine they will try again.

I wouldn’t reveal any personal detail to any caller and would always check with my genuine organisation, if I ever paid any attention to the hundreds of emails I delete every day because they look suspect, or if I could bother to navigate my way through the complicated layers of electronic obstacles to talk to an actual person who can help.

Companies complaining that people are now ignoring genuine emails only have themselves to blame for either bombarding us with cold calls for years or not doing enough to stamp out scamming.

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