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A new perspective: my hospital experience

A recent hospital visit gave Marilyn Eveleigh the opportunity to reflect on the changes in wards since she was a nurse in an acute hospital nearly 30 years ago ...

It's a long time since I have stayed in hospital – and even longer since I worked in one, having based my nursing career in the community and primary care setting. But recently I was required to spend time in an acute unit when my son was an inpatient.

The ward was spotlessly clean. Though it had exposed pipes, a traditional layout and it is not a modern design, it had no clutter, no dust or stains and no flowers. But the confidence the cleanliness gave me, and others, more than made up for the lack of colourful blooms. I was eager to congratulate the "ward manager" aka (in my day) sister, ie, the one in charge. With cleaning standards, in this hospital, we have done extremely well and it showed.   

Although the ward was divided into four-bedded single sex bays, some with closing doors, it housed both males and females. I cannot recall mixed wards in my London teaching hospital but they must have been around. What I do recall is the pressure over recent years to ensure patients are cared for in single sex wards – with internal hospital targets and national government promises keeping the pressure on. We have not done so well here.

Nursing staff appeared plentiful with a significant number of students on placement. Basic patient washing and comfort needs were not always addressed, however, and certainly do not require a qualified nurse. The ratio of male nurses was fantastic for my son, Tom, who required postoperative catheter management for five days after undergoing surgery on his bladder for bilharziasis (contracted three years ago during a gap year in Ghana). In my early career, male nurses were rare; the profession has done well to attract so many.   

I once cared for patients who wore pale, starched and ludicrously styled sleeping gowns with the hospital name clearly marked across the front like convicts. Tom wore one just like this and he struggled to keep his dignity intact, just as his fellow patients did. Yet I'm aware of so many NHS privacy and dignity initiatives that have not resulted in more appropriate and practical clothing. Maybe there is a dream garment, but the NHS has not, or not been able to afford to, invest in it. We must do better.

A 22-year old energetic trainee paramedic, Tom is permanently grazing food. He found that the hospital menu and the small portions offered left him perpetually hungry. Never having been a patient before, he was surprised how mealtimes became the highlight of his day, and the milestones by which he measured the slow passage of time. Evidence has shown that nutrition is crucial in the healing process and the pleasure of food can improve mental wellbeing. Have we made any dynamic progress in this regard?

The monotony of hospital days and nights were redeemed by the options offered by his laptop. It kept him in contact with the world through Facebook, offering him detailed information and treatment options on his parasite (schistosoma) via the internet and gave him hours of entertainment with DVDs and iPlayer – all through earphones that disturbed no one. This was not an option in my day; the NHS has accommodated well to the use and benefits of such technology.

Though in for a relatively minor procedure, this hospital stay was a useful learning experience for Tom. For me, it was an opportunity for professional reflection and observation. But as a mother, I naturally had trepidations. Yet my hospital nursing colleagues showed great professionalism and responsiveness: their attitude and cheerfulness made this a positive stay – despite the worst heatwave in a decade. The whole experience made me proud to be a nurse.

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"How good it is to hear someone with something positive to say about their experience with the NHS. Makes a nice change! I also have had some experience of being on the receiving end of care in recent months with various relatives and have been mostly proud of the care given especially from nurses. There have been times when I was disappointed, but these were
mainly through misdiagnosis from medical staff and time delays for treatment. Nurses seem to be caring well informed and professional as always, and I trained over 40 yrs ago!" - Veda Unsworth, UK