What to expect from your hospital stay

No one looks forward to spending time in hospital – but there are things that can make it a lot better, as Sarah Brealey explains.

Being in hospital can be a trying experience, but small things, like how you're spoken to by the people looking after you, can make all the difference to how you feel about your stay. We talked to patients and experts to produce this illustrated guide to good practice in hospital and beyond.

Although their recommendations are different, many of them are to do with involving patients – and their loved ones – in their care, making them feel that their views matter and making sure they understand what’s happening to them. If you don’t get the care you expect, there are ways to get it put right.

Your healthcare professionals should introduce themselves and explain who they are

Introduction
Kate Granger is a doctor and a terminally ill cancer patient. While she was in hospital last summer, she noticed that many staff members did not introduce themselves before they delivered her care. She set up the #hellomynameis campaign on social media to remind healthcare professionals of the importance of introductions. “It is about recognising patients as people, making a human connection, building trust and the beginning of providing truly compassionate care,” she says.

You should be treated as a person, not a condition

Treated as a person
Healthcare professionals who make eye contact and talk to you, rather than about you, can make a big difference to how you feel about your treatment. Dr Havi Carel, philosopher and author of the book Illness, says: “Treating people, not bodies, is what medicine is about. Health professionals need to involve people in their own care, including decision making, and frequently ask if they are OK and provide information and reassurance.”

You should be helped to manage your own care

Manage your own care
If you have a long-term condition, you’ll spend much of your life managing it with the help of a healthcare professional, so it’s important you feel informed. You’re entitled to ask for copies of documents such as test results or scans, and health professionals should help you understand what these mean if necessary. Dr Mike Knapton says: “Supporting people to understand their condition helps to improve outcomes, reduces unnecessary anxiety and provides a better experience of care.”

Your family should be involved

Family involved
Family members should be encouraged to support you in hospital. Last year, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital launched a scheme in which family and friends can choose to help with things like mealtimes or physiotherapy. Visiting is allowed at any time, and there are facilities for relatives to stay overnight. Sue Pemberton, Executive Director of Nursing, says: “It increases safety, because families are an extra pair of eyes. They can give emotional support, and often they like to be involved.”

You should have enough to drink

Enough to drink
Water or other drinks should always be available, and patients should be given help with drinking if needed. Lyn McIntyre MBE, Deputy Nurse Director – Patient Experience at NHS England, has been working with hospitals on this issue for several years. “Hydration is as important as nutrition, because it can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections, falls and pressure ulcers,” she explains. “Some hospitals use charts where patients can cross off the number of cups they have drunk.”

You should leave feeling informed

Feeling informed

You should go home from hospital at the right time: when you are stable and fit to leave and when any follow-on care you need is in place. The British Medical Association’s patient liaison group has produced a report on hospital discharge, including a checklist to help patients ensure they have everything they need before leaving. Group Chairman Catherine Macadam says: “Discharge planning needs to start as soon as someone comes into hospital. Patients need to be kept informed about any delays or changes.”

Get involved

Not everything will always go smoothly in hospital. If it doesn’t, Dr Havi Carel says that explaining your point of view as a patient can help. “For example, ‘I’ve been fasting overnight and have been sitting in the waiting room for 40 minutes – please could you help me get the blood tests done quickly so I can eat and drink.’ This explains why you are asking for attention.”

She adds: “It’s important to give feedback when things are done well, too.” Raising an issue early with someone in the department (like the ward manager or senior nurse) is usually the quickest way to resolve it.

You can also make a formal complaint – most hospitals will have a patient advice and liaison service (PALS) that can help. If you’re interested in influencing heart health services, you might want to join our Heart Voices network. There is a huge range of activities, from getting involved with your local NHS trust to developing a new patient resource or joining a national committee.

Find out more about Heart Voices

Related publications

More useful information