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NHS hospital services

Staying in hospital as an inpatient

If you have been referred to hospital for an operation or test and you need to stay overnight, it means you're being treated as an inpatient.

Tip

You have the right to choose which hospital to go to for your outpatient appointment and which consultant-led team will be in charge of your treatment.

See the Choosing a hospital section for more information.

When you arrive at the hospital, you will be welcomed by a member of staff, who will explain the processes to you and what to expect. You will be given an identity bracelet to wear at all times while you're in the hospital.

See Hospital admissions for more detailed information.

You may also be interested in our guidance about having an operation, which explains all the steps in the process.

While you're in hospital, you should be involved in all decisions about your treatment. If you wish, staff will keep members of your family or friends informed about your progress.

Will I be offered same-sex hospital accommodation?

Being in mixed-sex hospital accommodation can be difficult for some patients for a variety of personal and cultural reasons. All providers of NHS-funded care are expected to eliminate mixed-sex accommodation, except where it is in the overall best interests of the patient or reflects their personal choice.

While there are some circumstances where mixing can be justified, these are mainly confined to patients who need highly specialised care, such as the care given in critical care units. Find out about being detained under the Mental Health Act to learn more about this.

There is no justification for placing a patient in mixed-sex accommodation where this is not in the best overall interests of the patient and where better management, better facilities, or the removal of organisational constraints could have averted the situation.

Since April 2011, hospitals have to provide a monthly report of the number of times they breach the Department of Health's same-sex accommodation guidance. The data is published on the Health and Social Care Information Centre website, and you can use this information to help you choose a hospital. 

Hospitals can face fines of up to £250 for breaching the same-sex accommodation guidance. While this central reporting concentrates on sleeping accommodation, mixing in bathrooms and WCs is still unacceptable.

Will the hospital address possible mental health needs?

If you are physically ill and have to go to hospital for treatment, the team looking after you should also consider your mental health needs. Your hospital should have a liaison psychiatry service, also known as a psychological medicine service.

The service aims to bridge the gap between physical and mental healthcare. In discussion with you – and where appropriate – your healthcare team should refer you to the liaison psychiatry service to ensure your mental health needs are met.

Watch the video, What is liaison psychiatry?

Consent to treatment

For some procedures, including operations, you will be asked to sign a consent form. It's up to you whether you give your consent for a treatment. So you can make an informed decision, you should ask as much about the treatment as possible before giving your consent.

For more tips, read Questions to ask the doctor.

You can change your mind after the consent form has been signed, but not after you have received sedation for a procedure.

For more information, see Consent to treatment

You may wish to plan ahead for a time when you cannot give consent. You can pre-arrange a legally binding advance decision to refuse certain treatments, previously known as an advance directive. Healthcare professionals must follow the advance decision, provided it is valid and applicable.

In addition, you can make broader statements about how you wish to be treated, such as receiving terminal care at home rather than in hospital. These are not legally binding, but will be taken into consideration by health professionals.

What if I am not able to give consent?

If you clearly lack the capacity to make decisions when you're admitted to hospital, health professionals will make what is called a best interests decision about whether a specific treatment is in your best interests.

Doctors and nurses will weigh up the benefits and risks, including whether you are likely to regain the ability to give or withhold consent. Read more about how capacity to consent is assessed.

Consent under the Mental Health Act

If you're held under the Mental Health Act, you can be treated against your will. This is because it's felt you do not have sufficient capacity to make an informed decision about your treatment at the time. This is also the case if you refuse treatment but the team treating you believe you should have it.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) provides detailed guidance about your rights in relation to consent to medication and electroconvulsive therapy if you are detained in hospital or placed on a community treatment order (CTO).

Learn more about the Mental Health Act, or download the easy read factsheets that explain your rights.

Consent for children and young people

Before a doctor, nurse or therapist can examine or treat your child, they must have consent or agreement. As a parent, you will make your decisions based on what you feel is in your child's best interests.

It is, however, advisable to involve children as much as possible in these decisions. This will give them a sense of control, and they are more likely to respond positively to their treatment.

People aged 16 or over are entitled to consent to their own treatment, and this can only be overruled in exceptional circumstances.

Find out more about consent from children and young people.

Advice for parents with children

Children can find going to hospital a daunting experience. This is partly to do with their treatment, but also because the hospital is a new and strange environment, full of new sights, smells, noises and people. If possible, talk to your child before leaving for hospital and explain what they should expect.

Stay with your child as much as you can

Children often adapt better to a hospital if their parents stay with them for as long as possible. Reassure your child that you will be staying by their side, and let them know the hospital is a safe place to be.

However, if you have to leave the hospital at any time, inform your child how long you will be gone for, and make sure you're back on time.

If you're able to stay with your child overnight, the hospital may arrange for an extra bed in your child's room or ward.

Stick to a routine

Keeping a routine can help your child feel more at home – it may help if, for example, you stick to your child's usual bedtime routine, or bring in their favourite toy or comforter.

Take time for yourself

While it's important to reassure children about their stay in hospital, it's just as important to look after yourself. You will be better able to care for your child and give support if you're coping well yourself.

Remember, it's fine to take breaks. Go for a walk, or get a cup of tea or coffee. Talk things through with your partner, friends or family – they will be able to give support, and talking can be a great stress reliever.

For information about neonatal care, see Special care for ill or premature babies.

Staying mobile

Staying mobile in hospital can help you recover more quickly. Being immobile can lead to additional health problems, such as infections and pressure sores. It can also increase your risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE), which is when a blood clot forms in a vein.

To avoid VTE, you will be encouraged to move about the ward regularly. You will be given as much assistance as you need to move about. If you're at an increased risk of VTE, you will be given compression stockings to improve your circulation.

For more information about compression stockings, see How long should I wear compression stockings after surgery?

Death in hospital

If someone you know dies while in hospital, the staff will advise you about what to do. If you're their next of kin, you will need to identify their body and may need to give permission for a post-mortem to be carried out.

For more information about what to do after someone dies, visit the GOV.UK website.

General tips about hospital etiquette

Things to remember while you are in hospital:

  • Tell staff if you're going out of the ward or unit.
  • Listen carefully to information about your treatment and medication.
  • Ask staff to explain something to you again if you don't understand.
  • Tell the doctor about any treatments you're already receiving or any allergies you have.
  • Don't take any medication you have brought with you from home. 
  • Treat staff, fellow patients and visitors politely and with respect. Verbal abuse, harassment and physical violence are unacceptable and may lead to prosecution.
  • Follow the rules for your ward.

Hospital safety and security

Accidents

Accidents, particularly falls, occur frequently in hospitals, but many can be prevented. If you see something that could cause an accident or witness an incident, alert a member of staff immediately.

To help avoid accidents in hospital:

  • Ask for help if you want to get in or out of bed and feel dizzy or unwell.
  • Ensure you know where the call bell is and you can reach it easily.
  • Be aware of obstacles on the ward, wet floors, and other people around you.
  • If you have glasses, wear them. If you've left them at home, ask someone to bring them in for you.
  • Wear close-fitting, non-slip slippers.
  • If you use a walking aid, such as a stick or frame, keep it near to you. Make sure it's labelled with your name and contact details.
  • If your bed is too high or too low, ask the nursing staff to adjust it for you.

Fire safety

Each hospital has its own fire safety procedure. Make sure you're familiar with what to do in case of a fire. 

Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

If you need help and advice about your treatment in hospital, contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). Most hospitals have their own PALS contact you can approach.

To contact your local PALS:

  • Phone your local clinic, GP surgery, health centre, or hospital and ask for details of PALS
  • Use the services near you search to find your local PALS

Page last reviewed: 07/03/2016

Next review due: 07/03/2018

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Find out about special care for babies born early, sick, jaundiced or with a disability

Coma

Find out about comas, a state of unconsciousness where a person is unresponsive and cannot be woken up

How to prepare for your child's hospital stay

A practical guide on how to prepare for your child going into hospital, including information on what to bring and the facilities available for both parents and children. Facilities may vary from one hospital to another – this video uses Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital in Brighton as an example.

Media last reviewed: 09/07/2015

Next review due: 09/07/2017