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NHS hospital services

Going into hospital

The information in this section is a general guide to going into hospital. Details will vary depending on which hospital you are being admitted to and which test or treatment you are receiving. Check on the website of your hospital for more information. Find contact details for your hospital using the Services near you facility. 


Your admission to hospital will depend on the type of procedure or care you will be receiving. You can attend as an outpatient, or be admitted as a day patient or an inpatient.

As an outpatient you will go to hospital for an appointment to see a specialist but you will not stay overnight. 

As a day patient or day case you will be given a hospital bed for tests or surgery, but will not stay overnight. This can include treatments such as minor surgery, dialysis or chemotherapy.

As an inpatient, you will stay in hospital for one night or more for tests, medical treatment or surgery. You’ll be involved in all decisions regarding your treatment throughout your stay in hospital. If you wish, staff will keep members of your family or friends informed about your progress.

All hospital staff will treat you equally regardless of your gender, sexuality, age or disability and will always respect your privacy and religious or cultural background while providing care.  

Admission letter

If  you are due to go to hospital for elective care (pre-arranged), you will usually receive an admission letter beforehand. This will tell you the date of your admission to hospital, which ward you are going to be in, and the consultant who will be taking care of you.

Your admission letter will contain any special instructions you need to follow before your hospital procedure. For example, you may be asked not to eat or drink before attending hospital.

Your admission letter will also contain a contact number for your hospital or ward. It may be necessary to contact the hospital on the morning of your admission date to ensure that a bed is available for you.

Sometimes, because of emergencies, hospital beds are not available when scheduled. If a bed is not available, your admission date will be rearranged. If a bed is available, you will normally be asked to arrive at the hospital in the mid or late afternoon.  

Pre-admission assessment

At some hospitals you will be asked to attend a pre-admissions assessment (PAA). This may be an appointment with a nurse or doctor or a telephone assessment. You will be asked questions about your health, your medical history and your home circumstances.

During the PAA you will be given advice about your admission, including where to report to. You may be asked not to eat or drink (nil by mouth) before coming into hospital for your tests or operation. You will also be given advice about when to take your normal medication if you have any. You will be screened for your risk of MRSA and assessed for your risk of hospital-acquired clots. Find more about the risk of blood clots.

During the PAA, the nurse or doctor will decide whether you are suitable for a day procedure or whether you will need to stay in hospital to have your operation. 

Cancelling and rearranging

If you are unable to attend your hospital appointment or don’t feel well enough to have your treatment, operation or test, let the hospital know as soon as possible. Your admission will be rearranged for another day.

If you have decided not to go ahead with the operation or procedure, you will be referred back to your specialist. 

Getting to hospital

You will be expected to make your own way to hospital. If you have a medical need for it, a non-emergency ambulance or taxi will collect you from your home. Your GP or the person who refers you will have discussed with you whether you have a medical need for transport.

It is a good idea to organise for a friend or relative to take you to hospital and pick you up again when you are discharged. Parking at a hospital can be expensive, and you may not be able to park overnight. For information about parking, contact your hospital directly.

If you do not have a medical need for ambulance transport, you cannot meet the cost of travel to hospital and cannot organise a friend or relative to take you to hospital, you may be able to claim a refund on the cost of travelling to hospital under the Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme (HTCS).  

Screening before you go into hospital

Before you go into hospital you may be screened to see whether you have MRSA bacteria on your skin. For more information about MRSA, visit the Health A-Z section.

What to bring with you to hospital

Bring your admission card or admission letter with you when you go into hospital. If you are staying in hospital you may also need the following:

  • two nightdresses or pairs of pyjamas (depending on the length of your stay)
  • day clothes (you may not need to wear your night clothes for your entire stay in hospital. Hospital wards are often kept warm, so bear this in mind when choosing clothes.)
  • clean underwear
  • a dressing gown and slippers
  • a small hand towel
  • toiletries, including soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner
  • sanitary towels or tampons
  • a razor and shaving materials
  • a comb or hairbrush
  • things to occupy you, such as books, magazines or puzzle books
  • a small amount of money to buy things such as newspapers, phone calls and anything you may want from the hospital shop or ward trolley
  • any medicines you normally take, including nicotine replacement treatment, eye drops, inhalers and creams
  • a notebook and pen to write down any questions you have when the doctor is not available
  • if you wish, you can bring healthy snacks to eat between meals
  • your address book and important phone numbers, including your GP’s name, address and telephone number
  • proof that you do not have to pay prescription charges, if applicable (inpatients don't normally have to pay for the medication they are sent home with)

Limit clutter and gifts. Keeping your bed area free from clutter makes cleaning easier. Where possible, it is advisable to mark all items of personal property with your name.

You will have your own small locker for your personal belongings. Do not leave any valuables or money by your bed unattended.

Some hospitals have a safe in which you can leave valuable items if you are concerned about security. If you give anything to the hospital for safekeeping, make sure you get a receipt.

For more information about what to take with you if you’re going into hospital to give birth, see Giving birth in hospital: what to pack.


What not to bring with you to hospital

Do not bring the following to hospital with you:

  • large amounts of money
  • valuable items, such as jewellery or credit cards
  • unnecessary clothing
  • alcohol or cigarettes
  • electrical appliances. If you do bring an electrical appliance, such as a hairdryer, inform the nurse in charge. Hospitals may refuse to let you use electrical equipment if they think it may be unsafe


Bringing medication to hospital

When you go to hospital as an inpatient, take all your medicines and tablets with you. It is helpful if, where possible, you take medicines in the boxes they originally came in.

Make sure the hospital knows about all the medicines and tablets you are taking, including any supplements or herbal tablets. Some of the medicines you take may affect your treatment and your doctor may ask you to stop taking them.

You may find it helpful to make a list of the medicines you take before you are admitted, and bring it with you.

If you have a special card giving details of your current treatment, such as a steroid or warfarin card, bring this with you too.

Other preparations to make before you go into hospital

Arrange for a friend or relative to stay with you or visit you regularly when you return from hospital.


Prepare your home

Depending on the treatment you receive, your mobility might be restricted when you are returning home from hospital. Put your TV remote control, books and magazines, radio, telephone, tissues, address book and a glass on a table next to where you will spend most of your time when you come out of hospital.

Make sure that you have plenty of easy-to-prepare food, drinks and other essential items in your home, including basic painkillers.

Clean up

Before going into hospital, have a long bath or shower, cut your nails (taking off any nail polish) and wash your hair. Put on freshly washed clothes. This helps to prevent unwanted bacteria coming into hospital with you and complicating your care.

Taking time off work

If you are an employee and you need to go into hospital for a long stay, or need to take time off to recover after your operation, talk to your employer about your circumstances.

You may be entitled to statutory sick pay, or your employer may have a company sick pay scheme. For more information, see GOV.UK: Statutory sick pay.

After your operation or hospital stay you may be able to work but feel more tired than normal. Before you have your operation or treatment, talk to your employer about the possibility of:

  • working from home
  • sharing your workload with colleagues
  • travelling to work at quieter times
  • using a parking space closer to your place of work
  • having regular rest breaks in a quiet place
  • doing lighter work if your job involves manual labour

Preparing other people for hospital

If your child is ill and needs to go into hospital, you may have to make difficult decisions, such as whether to stay with your child in hospital. For more information, see Children in hospital, or Birth to five: if your child has to go to hospital.

If you are a carer and the person you are caring for has to go to hospital, this may affect the benefits you both receive. For more information, see Carer’s Allowance: claims.

Page last reviewed: 24/09/2014

Next review due: 24/09/2016

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