The patient stuck in a room

24 September 2018 by Jennifer Gilroy-Cheetham


It's easy to forget how significant time is when you’re not in a hospital bed. For a patient, time is everything. The time you wake, the time you have your breakfast, the time you’re due to have your scans or others tests - and of course visiting time.

When I became a patient I realised I had forgotten how we focus on time. It's hard to understand this until you become that patient in a room, waiting and watching the clock.

Hospitals are not the most interesting of places and rightly so, their main purpose is to help, heal and cure. But as a patient, waiting and wondering, a conversation with the domestic or the nurse who is generally offloading her frustrations is a distraction which helps time to go quicker.

Obviously there are times when you don't feel up to conversation but when you are, knowing there is a team ready for you makes you feel supported, and feeling supported helps you feel safe.

In the NHS we talk about safety culture but seldom do we ask patients about what makes them feel safe, what makes them feel that the wards, clinics and services they attend are supporting them and putting their safety first.

For me it's about the skills and actions demonstrated so well by the staff on the ward where I've spent a total of six weeks in the last year. A startling contrast to a ward where I spent a horrendous bank holiday weekend.

That weekend, what made the difference may just have been my own perceptions, but when you’re the patient, especially when you’re not familiar with the ward environment, what goes on around you can be daunting and very scary. The day to day activities and rituals that are familiar to staff, aren't for the patient. It's easy for staff to vent their frustrations, for example with IT and not necessarily understand how this externalisation of emotions can affect a patient. As a staff member I'm sure that jargon is important, but as a patient when I hear it, I may not know what you’re talking about.

My plea to NHS staff is that they take time to make sure the patient feels safe. That means making sure they understand - I mean really understand - what is happening. I might nod my head when you tell me things but I may not want to admit I’ve no idea what you’ve just said or what is going on.

People don’t plan to get sick, most would rather be at home. If there are ways in which you can make their experience more positive by having a conversation, introducing yourself, showing a smile or by using less jargon, please do.

Jennifer Gilroy-Cheetham

Programme Manager for Patient Safety


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