You will want to do all you can to ensure your relative is receiving the best possible care in hospital. Knowing what to do and what you have a right to expect can help you to feel more in control.

On this page we give you information about how to:

1. Inform staff
2. Identify a single point of contact
3. Understand your relative's treatment
4. Be aware of the practicalities of hospital life
5. Standards of care

1. Inform staff

It's best to adopt a proactive approach when talking to staff looking after your relative to ensure he or she receives the highest possible standard of care. 

The nurse or doctor in charge of your relative’s care should ask relevant questions about their health and personal circumstances, but if they don’t ask, make sure that you tell them. Your relative will receive the care best-suited to their needs if medical staff have the right information.

Information to give medical staff

Below you will find a list of the kind of information you should be ready to give medical staff. It is possible that you will not know everything, for example if your relative has signed a legal order not to be resuscitated in the event of a cardiac arrest, or if he or she has signed a power of attorney.

  • Contact details: make sure that the hospital has your contact details, or those of another close relative, should they need to speak with you urgently. Ensure that you are entered as next of kin, otherwise you may not be given the full information.
  • Prescribed medicines: if your relative is taking any prescribed medicines, be sure that medical staff know the details. If possible, take medications with you so that they know the prescribed dosage and frequency. GPs often provide patients with a card detailing what medicines they have prescribed. Find out if your relative has one.
  • Pre-existing conditions: does your relative have any pre-existing conditions that may affect their care? For example, do they suffer from dementia or any other cognitive difficulties? Or do they have diabetes or a heart condition? Does your relative have any mobility problems, or specific toileting, sensory or communication needs?
  • Your relative’s wishes: if your relative has signed a legal order saying that they do not wish to be resuscitated in the event of a cardiac arrest or kept on life support (commonly known as a DNR, for ‘do not resuscitate’), inform staff in case this becomes relevant.
  • Power of attorney: if there is a power of attorney in place to deal with medical decisions (a Personal Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney; see Power of attorney), let staff know up front and provide the relevant paperwork.
  • Allergies: make sure that staff are aware of any allergies that your relative might have.
  • Dietary needs: inform staff if your relative has any special dietary requirements.

2. Identify a single point of contact for you and your relative

A large number of hospital staff could be involved in the treatment of your relative, such as nurses, a family doctor, specialists or a surgeon. Having one point of contact to explain what is happening and to answer questions can help reduce the level of anxiety that both you and your relative may be feeling. 

Ask the nurse who is the best person to speak to with any concerns or questions. This may be the doctor in charge of your relative’s care; ask for his or her phone number so that you can get in touch if you are unable to visit. Alternatively, learn when the doctor makes hospital rounds and arrange to be there, bearing in mind visiting hours, so that you can ask any questions.

3. Understand your relative’s treatment

Each day the staff looking after your relative will work from a care and treatment plan. In this will be listed dietary restrictions, the tests scheduled, medications and other special orders from the doctor.

If you are unsure about anything, ask a nurse to explain the plan of care and medications to you – and take notes as necessary. Your relative may be asked to sign a consent form before certain treatment is carried out.

4. Be aware of the practicalities of hospital life

Life on a hospital ward will follow a set routine. This includes timing of ward rounds, meal times, bathing and visiting hours. If your relative was not told about these routines on arrival, ask a nurse for these details. Find out who to speak to if you or your relative have any concerns or questions. This may be a different point of contact to the medical contact.


Find out when visiting times are, and how many people are allowed to visit. Sometimes, there will be a limit to the number of people that can visit at one time. If you are using public transport, plan your route to the hospital and make sure it fits with visiting times. If you are driving, find out about car parking and where it is cheapest and most convenient to park.

Personal care 

Find out what care is planned for your relative and if their needs are being met. If you will be visiting regularly, ask if you can help with personal care. Although your relative may prefer you to carry out some tasks, you should only do them if you want to – you shouldn’t be in a position where you have to do them.

Eating and drinking 

Find out when mealtimes are and what’s on the menu. Make sure staff know about any specific dietary requirements that your relative has. If your relative needs help with eating and drinking and if you are providing that help, ensure that you are not restricted to visit if the hospital follows a ‘protected mealtime’ policy. 

If a protected mealtime policy is in place, it means that no non-urgent activities are carried out during mealtimes to allow patients to eat without interruptions. This includes medicine rounds.


Is your relative comfortable with toileting arrangements or do they need any additional help and support? Staff should ensure that privacy and dignity is maintained at all times. Patients should not be asked to use a commode or left in soiled clothes because staff are too busy to attend to patients.

5. Standards of care

There are four regulators across the UK who check on standards of care for all registered care providers, including hospitals, care homes and providers of care at home. Everyone in hospital has a right to expect:

  • to be treated with dignity and respect, to be involved and told what’s happening at every stage
  • care, treatment and support that meets their needs
  • to be safe
  • to be cared for by staff with the right skills to do their jobs properly
  • the hospital to routinely check the quality of its services.

To find out more about these standards, see the regulation of care provider links on our Useful organisations and websites for medical emergencies page.


If you feel that these standards are not being met, you should complain to the hospital staff in the first instance. If the problem is not resolved to your satisfaction, or it is a serious complaint, make an official complaint to the hospital. All hospitals should have an official complaints procedure.

More information

Page last reviewed: 31 December 2015
Next review due: 31 January 2017