The information in this section is a general guide to staying in hospital. Details will vary depending on which hospital you are admitted to and which procedure you are having. Check on the website of your hospital for more information. To find contact details for your hospital, use Find and choose services.
When you arrive
When you arrive at your 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 are in the hospital.
A nurse will usually co-ordinate your admission and fill in the paperwork for you. You will need to provide the name, address and a contact number of the person you would like to be contacted in an emergency. This could be your wife, husband, partner or a friend or other relative.
For some procedures, including operations, you will be asked to sign a consent form. A copy of this form will be given to you.
It is up to you whether you give consent for a treatment. You can change your mind after the form has been signed, but not after you have received sedation for a procedure. For more information, visit the Consent to treatment section.
Keeping your hands clean helps to prevent the spread of diseases and infections in hospitals. If you are staying in a hospital, make sure you clean your hands after going to the toilet, before and after eating, and at regular intervals.
It is important that you clean your hands regularly using hand rubs or soap and water. However, most germs that cause diarrhoea are not destroyed by alcohol-based hand rubs, in which case you should wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom, commode or bedpan if you have diarrhoea.
If you are concerned about the hand hygiene of doctors, nurses or anyone else you come into contact with in hospital, you are encouraged to ask them whether they have cleaned their hands.
Cleanliness in hospitals is important in minimising the spread of infection. You can help prevent the spread of infections by keeping the space around you tidy and uncluttered so that cleaning staff can access all the surfaces easily. Your relatives and visitors can also help you with this.
If you are concerned about cleanliness in the hospital or if you spot any dirt or dust, let the staff know about it.
Infection prevention and control
You can also help prevent the spread of infection by following these guidelines:
- Do not touch any wound or device that enters your body, such as a drip or catheter.
- Shower as frequently as you can, and change into clean clothes regularly.
- Do not share personal items or equipment with other patients.
- Tell one of the nurses as soon as possible if you have diarrhoea or vomiting. It is important to let staff know so they can keep you and other patients safe.
For more information about preventing infections such as MRSA, see How do hospitals try to prevent MRSA spreading?
If you have difficulty speaking or understanding English, your hospital may be able to provide an interpreter. Speak to the staff at your hospital for more details.
Signers for British Sign Language can also often be arranged. If you have a disability and you need special help or care while in hospital, see the page on Disabled people in hospital for more information.
Most hospitals have specific times during which friends and relatives can visit. However, your doctor may restrict people from seeing you if they decide that your health would suffer if you were allowed visitors. Most hospitals also limit the number of visitors a patient can receive at any one time, so it might be necessary to stagger your visitors so that they come at different times.
Visitors should also clean their hands as they arrive to avoid bringing in infections. If a friend or relative has an infection such as a cough, cold, flu, diarrhoea or vomiting, it is best that they do not visit you. Ask one of the nurses if you’re not sure.
It is also best if visitors do not sit on your bed. To minimise the risk of infection, visitors should not use the patient toilets on the ward. Staff can direct family and friends to the visitors’ toilets.
See Visiting someone in hospital for more information.
Hospitals do not permit smoking at all within their buildings. If smoking is permitted outside the hospital buildings, make sure you only smoke in designated areas.
In most hospitals, different members of staff wear different coloured uniforms to make them more easily recognisable to patients and visitors. However, colour schemes vary from hospital to hospital, so ask for a guide to the uniforms in your hospital.
All members of hospital staff will wear an identity badge with their name and role.
Hospital staff must be scrupulous about their own hand hygiene. This means they have to be able to clean their hand and wrists without their uniforms getting in the way. All hospitals must have rules about uniform that support good hand hygiene. Staff must take care that no item of clothing inadvertently comes into contact with the person being cared for.
Religion or belief
Hospitals have a chaplaincy or religious, spiritual and pastoral care department, with representatives from different faiths. Their job is to listen to you and talk to you about your beliefs and concerns, not to put you under pressure to follow a particular faith.
If you wish to see a chaplain or other faith representative, ask a member of ward staff to contact them on your behalf. Some hospitals have a chaplain on call 24 hours a day.
If you need somewhere to go to worship or a quiet place to be alone, most hospitals have a chapel or other designated areas. These are not only for those who have religious faith, but for anyone who needs some time to themselves.
Food and mealtimes
Hospitals will cater for your personal dietary needs. Let staff know if you need a particular type of food. For example, kosher, halal, vegetarian or vegan. You may be asked to complete a menu sheet each day.
Let the staff know if you have any concerns about your diet or if you feel you have lost weight or lost your appetite. If you would like help, advice or support relating to your diet, you may be referred to a dietitian.
Hospitals often operate a protected mealtimes system. This means that only nursing and catering staff are allowed on the wards during mealtimes. Visitors may be asked to leave or may be prevented from entering a ward, and all other ward activities cease. This ensures that staff are available to serve food and assist patients if necessary, and patients can enjoy their food in a more relaxed and calm atmosphere.
There may be alternative arrangements for food on your ward. Some wards have facilities that provide snacks or lighter meals. You may also be allowed to bring in some foodstuffs and store them in the ward fridge.
However, wards often have strict rules about food. Normally, dry foods, such as biscuits, crisps and bottled or canned drinks, are allowed. Other foods, such as meat or fish, cream-based products, eggs or take-away items may be restricted or banned altogether. Check with your ward staff about the local policy.
Staying mobile in hospital can help you to 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. VTE is a life-threatening condition. Each year more than 25,000 people in England die from VTE that was contracted in hospital.
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 are 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?
Hospital stays and benefits
Going into hospital may affect your benefits. For more information, see Carers Direct: changes to benefits or Directgov: tax credits if you go into hospital.
Death in hospital
If someone you know dies while in hospital, the staff will advise you about what to do. If you are the next of kin of the person who dies, you will need to identify their body and you 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.