What will happen?
At A&E, a doctor or nurse will assess your relative or friend's condition and decide what action needs to be taken. Once this has happened, they may be:
- treated but not admitted to hospital
- moved to a Clinical Decisions Unit (CDU) for their condition to be monitored, or tests completed, before a decision is made over whether they need to be admitted
- admitted to a medical or surgical ward for ongoing care.
What should I do when a loved one is admitted to hospital?
Talk to staff
It’s best to adopt a proactive approach when talking to staff to ensure the highest possible standard of care.
The nurse or doctor in charge should ask relevant questions about your loved one’s health and personal circumstances, but if they don’t ask, make sure that you tell them. The best-suited care will be provided if the medical staff have the right information.
Information to give medical staff on admission
It’s important to give medical staff as much information as possible about your loved one's medical conditions and preferences. You may not have access to all of this information, but be as detailed as you can.
- Contact details: make sure the hospital has your full contact details in case they need to speak with you urgently. Also provide contact details of another close relative or friend, as a backup option. Ensure you’re listed as next of kin, otherwise staff may not be able to give you the full information.
- Prescribed medicines: if your family member or friend is taking any prescribed medicines, be sure that medical staff know the details. If possible, take medications with you (or collect from their home) so the staff know the prescribed dosage and frequency. GPs often provide patients with a card detailing what medicines they have prescribed. You might also find it helpful to take a photograph of the card on your smartphone in case you need to refer to it in the future.
- Pre-existing conditions: does your loved one 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? Do they have any mobility problems, or specific toileting, sensory or communication needs
- Your loved one's wishes: inform staff if they’ve signed an advance decision to refuse treatment (also known as a ‘living will’) stating that there are specific medical treatments that they don’t want to receive in the future, in case this becomes relevant. Likewise, inform staff if a doctor has signed an order indicating that they should not be resuscitated in the event of a cardiac arrest (known as a DNAR decision, for ‘do not attempt resuscitation’). Although this may be upsetting for you, remember that their wishes take precedence.
- Power of Attorney: if there is a Personal Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney in place to deal with medical decisions, let staff know up front and provide the relevant paperwork.
- Allergies: make sure that staff are aware of any allergies.
- Dietary needs: inform staff if there are any special dietary requirements.
Identify a single point of contact
A large number of hospital staff could be involved in their treatment, such as nurses, a GP, specialists or a surgeon. Having one point of contact in the hospital to explain what is happening and to answer questions can help reduce the level of anxiety you all 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 the care; ask for their phone number so that you can get in touch if you’re unable to visit. Alternatively, learn when the doctor makes their hospital rounds and arrange to be there, bearing in mind visiting hours, so that you can ask any questions.
If you’re phoning for an update on your loved one’s condition, consider when nurses are likely to be very busy, such as when shifts change.
Understand your loved one’s treatment
Each day the staff looking after your relative or friend 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’re unsure about anything, ask a nurse to explain the plan of care and medications to you – and take notes as necessary. Your relative or friend may be asked to sign a consent form before certain treatment is carried out.
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 you or your loved one weren't told about these routines on arrival, ask a nurse for these details. Find out who to speak to if you have any concerns or questions. This may be a different point of contact to the medical contact.
- Visiting: 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’re using public transport, plan your route to the hospital and make sure it fits with visiting times. If you’re driving, find out about car parking and where it’s cheapest and most convenient to park (remember that hospital car parks often have limited space and be expensive).
- Personal care: find out what care is planned and if their needs are being met. If you will be visiting regularly, you may wish to ask if you can help with personal care. Although your loved one 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. If they need help with eating and drinking and you intend to provide that help, ensure that you’re allowed to visit at the relevant times. Find out if the hospital follows a ‘protected mealtime’ policy. This means that no non-urgent activities are carried out during mealtimes to allow patients to eat without interruptions. This includes medicine rounds.
- Toileting: is your loved one comfortable with the 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.
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. Every patient 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 our article about the regulation of care providers.
Complaints: if you feel that these standards aren’t being met, you should complain to the hospital staff in the first instance. If the problem is not resolved to your satisfaction, or it’s a serious complaint, make an official complaint to the hospital. All hospitals should have an official complaints procedure. Find out more from the hospital’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) or from the Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) in Scotland.
What should I think about outside the hospital?
If you find out that your loved one is going to be admitted to hospital, you’ll need to sort out a few practicalities. Emergencies don’t give you a lot of time to think, but as soon as you get a moment you’ll need to consider the following things.
- Go to their home: if no one else is living there, make sure it's safe and secure. Check that the doors are locked, windows are shut and everything is switched off.
- Personal belongings: if your loved one needs to stay in hospital, they might want some personal belongings, such as nightwear, slippers, a change of clothes and a wash bag.
- Let people know: if they have visits from a care worker at home or any regular appointments, these will need to be cancelled for a while. Also, cancel any regular deliveries such as milk or newspapers.
- Pets: arrange for any pets to be looked after.
Being told you're ready to leave hospital is positive news. We explain the discharge procedure to help you return home.
After being discharged from hospital you may need ongoing care and support, either at home or in a care home.
It can be difficult to broach a subject that might upset a loved one - a little planning should help.