A stay in hospital should be a time devoted to your treatment and recovery. The purpose of your admission is to help you live a healthy, happy and active life. But they can also be times of anxiety and uncertainty and almost always involve a disruption of your day-to-day routine.
Regardless of why you have been admitted to hospital, you should be involved in making decisions at every stage of your treatment. Hospital staff should always respect your privacy and treat you equally, whatever your gender, sexuality, age, disability or religious background.
The following sections discuss what you should expect when you go into hospital. Preparing for your stay can make the experience less stressful and help smooth your return home.
Being admitted to hospital
If you are going to hospital for elective care, there are a number of things that are likely to happen before you are actually admitted. It is normal practice to be sent a letter that will confirm the date of your admission, the name of the ward you are going to be in, the consultant who will take care of you and any special instructions that are particular to your treatment (such as not eating or drinking before attending hospital).
You may also have a pre-assessment appointment with a nurse who will explain what will happen when you go into hospital. During the appointment, you will be provided with a written description of your treatment and any items you will need to take in with you. The nurse will also tell you how long you are likely to be in hospital.
Once you have been given the date and length of your admission, you should make plans for your arrival and departure from hospital. Your GP or another professional who has referred you for your treatment should have already discussed with you whether you require medical transport. You will usually be expected to make your own way in, either by organising a friend or relative to take you to hospital or by taxi.
If you do not qualify for medical transport, cannot arrange for someone you know to bring you into hospital and are unable to meet the cost of transport, you might be able to claim a refund under the NHS Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme.
Upon arrival, you will be greeted by a member of hospital staff who will explain everything you will need to know about how the hospital is run and the support you will receive. There will also be some forms to be completed. You will need to provide the details of the person you would like to be contacted in the event of an emergency. You may also be asked to sign a consent form for some procedures, such as operations.
Staying well in hospital
For your treatment to be as successful and risk-free as possible, it is important that you are comfortable, clean and in a position to cooperate fully with those looking after you. For example, something as simple as bringing your own pillow into hospital can make your stay much easier. You may want to consider taking in reading material or even a laptop or tablet computer to help pass the time.
You should bring an accurate and up to date list of any medications you are currently prescribed so that your doctors know exactly what you take. This will help hospital staff make sure you are given suitable medicines and prevent hospital errors.
As hospitals are busy places with many patients and only so many doctors, nurses and other staff to go around, you might have only a few opportunities each day to talk to them about your treatment. If you have questions for your doctors and nurses, it is a good idea to write them down so you do not forget to ask them when the opportunity arises.
Maintaining high standards of personal hygiene in any hospital environment is vital. You should clean your hands regularly using alcohol-based hand wash or soap and water, the latter being particularly important after using the toilet to prevent diarrhoea. If you have concerns about the hand hygiene of any members of staff you come into contact with, you should feel free to ask them whether they have recently washed their hands.
You should be careful not to share personal items or equipment with other patients since this can spread infection. For the same reason, avoid touching any wound or device that enters your body, such as a drip or catheter. You can find further tips on hospital hygiene in the NHS Choices Guide to staying in hospital.
Religious observance in the hospital
The Jewish religion offers many dispensations when people are ill and unable to follow Jewish laws and traditions as strictly as they might usually do. When someone’s life is in danger, Judaism prioritises their survival above all other considerations. In the Guide to Traditional Jewish Observance in a Hospital, the well respected Rabbi known as the Ohr Hachaim once wrote: "one who transgresses Shabbat for a dangerously sick person is not called a transgressor of Shabbat, but a guarder of Shabbat."
However, it is usually possible for you to practise many aspects of your faith during a stay in hospital. You should be able to ensure that your meals are compatible with a kosher diet. High quality food is important to the care of all patients, and hospitals must always cater for a range of requirements. If you want to make sure that you receive kosher food, inform your nurse. Jewish Visiting has a guide to Jewish Dietary Laws that includes a section on Keeping Kosher in Hospital.
Most hospitals have a chaplaincy service which provides spiritual and pastoral support to patients and hospital staff of all religions and belief systems. With the help of chaplaincy staff, you may be able to request the presence of a Rabbi or a Jewish volunteer who can offer spiritual guidance.
Multifaith and belief rooms are also common in hospitals. These offer suitable areas for worship, prayer, contemplation and meditation. Your hospital may even hold Jewish religious services.
Know your rights
Understanding your rights as a patient is vital to ensuring you receive the best quality healthcare. The NHS in England recently set out many of these rights in its new Constitution. This Constitution outlines the roles, responsibilities and rights of hospital patients and staff in the delivery of healthcare services.
As well as explaining important legal rights, the Constitution commits healthcare professionals to a number of pledges. These provide comprehensive and high quality services that are appropriate to you, meet your needs and reflect your preferences. You can read more about your rights in the NHS Constitution for England handbook, which is available on GOV.UK.
You might want to find out how your hospital compares with others. You can do this by visiting the website of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which inspects and publishes reports on health services around the country. Inspection reports are freely available to members of the public and can be easily located using the website’s search facility. You can also use the CQC website to give feedback on the quality of the care you received.
Another way of checking up on the performance of your healthcare provider is by comparing your local health services on the MyNHS website. The site allows you to compare services across a range of standards such as food quality, staffing, patient safety and mental health. It has been designed to help you choose where to go for your treatment.
Rights for people with disabilities
If you are disabled and need to go into hospital for treatment, it is important that you let staff know about your disability and any extra support you might need during your stay. If you have been referred by your GP for treatment, the practice should have already informed your hospital of at least some of your needs.
When you arrive, you should discuss your needs with the member of staff who has been assigned to help you fill in your hospital admission form. Things you might like to mention include any routines you have, specialist equipment you might need and preference with regard to accessing the toilets and bathrooms.
As a disabled person, you should be treated by hospital staff just like any other patient. Most disabled patients will be asked to give their consent to treatment. Only those who lack the capacity to consent under the Mental Capacity Act (2005) may be prevented from directly doing so. You can read more about Information for disabled people going into hospital on the NHS Choices website.
Making a complaint
Under the NHS Constitution, you have a number of rights that you should expect to be fulfilled in the event that you need to make a complaint against your healthcare provider. You have the right to have your complaint dealt with efficiently and properly investigated, and you must be informed of the outcome of the investigation.
If you are unhappy with the outcome of the initial investigation, you can take your complaint to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. The ombudsman operates freely from the NHS and the government and exists to make final decisions on complaints that have not been resolved.
If you think you have been directly affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body, you can make a claim for judicial review.
Finally, if it is found that you have been harmed by the NHS, you have a right to receive compensation.
Your first port of call in making a complaint about the treatment you have received will usually be the hospital itself. Every NHS organisation has a complaints procedure that you can find out about by asking a member of staff or looking on the website of the relevant hospital or trust. You can also complain to the commissioner of the service, which will either be the local Clinical Commissioning Group or NHS England.
Depending on the nature of your complaint, you may wish to take further action by reporting your concerns to the General Medical Council, the Care Quality Commission, your local Healthwatch branch, the media or the NHS Choices website.
Hospitals have a legal duty of care towards their patients. This means that all healthcare practitioners must take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable injury to a patient. If you are able to prove in court that a healthcare professional has been medically negligent, you may be entitled to compensation for any resulting psychiatric or physical injury.
There are a few organisations that can help guide you through the complaints process. Action against Medical Accidents is a charity that promotes patient safety and justice throughout the UK. It provides a free independent advice and support service through a helpline, written casework and inquest support services.
The Citizens Advice website provides detailed advice on Complaining about the NHS. The mental health charity Mind has a detailed legal guide to Clinical negligence, which also includes details of where you can go for further information and help.
Your benefits and hospital
Depending on your circumstances and the nature of the entitlements you receive from the government, a medium or longer term stay in a hospital may affect your benefits. Benefits that are related to your care outside of hospital, for example, may be suspended after a certain period.
If you receive Attendance Allowance, this is usually stopped after 28 days in the hospital. This applies to either a single stay of more than four weeks or a number of stays that has taken place at intervals of no more than four weeks at a time. The same rules apply to the care component of the Disability Living Allowance.
Carer’s Allowance can also be affected if either the carer or the person they are looking after goes into hospital. If the person receiving care is hospitalised, then the allowance may continue for up to 12 weeks out of a 26-week period.
Some benefits are only halted once you have been a patient for 52 weeks. These include social fund payments, housing benefit and your state pension if you are retired.
Other benefits remain unaffected regardless of the length of your stay. To find out more about how going into hospital might affect the specific benefits you receive, you can look at Disability Rights UK’s factsheet on Benefits in hospital and the Hospitalisation page on the Rights 4 Seniors website.
Care after your discharge
Hospital staff will begin planning for your departure immediately after your arrival. It is important that you and your family are involved in identifying any potential problems that need to be addressed and planning any rehabilitation or support services.
Just before you leave hospital, you will need to undergo a series of checks to make sure you are ready to be discharged. Firstly, you should only be allowed to leave if you have been deemed to be medically fit by your consultant or another member of staff who your consultant has said can make the decisions.
You should then have an assessment to consider whether you will need any additional help once you are at home; if so, you need to know what form this should take. If you require extra help, you should not be discharged until a written care plan that sets out your needs has been provided and put in place.
Every hospital has its own discharge policy which you can obtain from the ward manager or the hospital’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service.
You should be fully involved throughout this process, and your views—and those of any family members you have given your permission to be involved—should be taken into account. It is also possible to request the assistance of an independent advocate who can help you to communicate your wishes.
If you have been in hospital for a while, you might be fully capable of supporting yourself but find you initially need help to get back on your feet. It is possible that you would benefit from some support with one or two domestic tasks when you return home. You may find yourself accepting help from family, friends and neighbours until your confidence returns.
The Community Support and Social Work team at Jewish Care Direct offers practical and emotional support, advice and advocacy services throughout the UK. Call 020 8922 2222 or send an email to the firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch with a professional who can help.
To help address more complex care needs, you may be entitled to support through the NHS Continuing Care scheme or your local authority’s social services department. If you have already been advised by hospital staff about the most appropriate care package, this will already be in place.
Finally, you can also contact homecare and support services privately. The Care Quality Commission website has a directory of social care organisations which you can search to find the most suitable providers in your area.
Once you have had your treatment and the doctors have given you the all clear, it is time to go back home. As you say your goodbyes, there are a number of loose ends you might want to tie up.
For example, you will need to make sure you have collected your hospital discharge letter for your GP if it has not been sent directly to them. You might need to ask your nurse for a medical certificate or to complete a sick note for your employer. You may be asked to make a follow-up appointment.
You should also make sure you have the medication you need, especially if you were already taking medicines before you came into hospital. It is important that you know whether your prescription has been changed.
During your final consultation with your doctor or nurse, you might want to ask if there are any symptoms such as unexpected pain or coughing that you should look out for that would suggest you should get back in touch with either your GP or the hospital.