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Hospitals 'not ready for dementia', warns top specialist nurse

Many hospitals are ill-equipped for patients with dementia when they are admitted with a medical problem, a leading nurse has claimed.

Jeni Bell, the UK’s first hospital-based Admiral nurse specialist, said care could be transformed if nurses were given the opportunity to “just sit and have a cup of tea” with patients rather than be restricted to purely medical interaction.

Ms Bell, based at Southampton General Hospital, said: “People with dementia don’t go into hospital because they have dementia, they are there because they are physically unwell but, unfortunately, acute hospital staff have been ill-equipped to deal with the added needs that dementia presents, both for the person with dementia and their carers.

“Many hospitals have lost that sense of creativity to think in simple terms about how to meet the physical and psychological needs of patients, so much so it has almost eradicated relationships between nurses and patients in some settings.”

Speaking ahead of Dementia Awareness Week, which started on Sunday, she added: “If patients are confined to bays, they will wander off and touch things that might be dangerous, but if you give them a table and encourage patients to join each other for a biscuit and a chat, they will relax and have a much more positive experience of being in hospital.”

Until Ms Bell’s appointment in September, mental health nurses who specialise in dementia care, known as Admiral nurses, only formed part of community nursing teams.

In her newly created hospital role, Ms Bell, a former clinical-lead Admiral nurse in the community, shadows clinical staff and oversees a training and development programme which looks at understanding patients’ body language and how to handle those who do not interact verbally.

She also oversaw the development of a pioneering dementia-friendly ward for patients with memory problems who are admitted with a medical condition, which includes brightly coloured doors to help patients remember which bays they are staying in and a lowered nurses’ station renamed “reception” to improve accessibility and ensure patients feel more comfortable.

Ms Bell said: “I am passionate about reforming hospital care for patients with dementia and their families as it can be a particularly difficult and distressing experience.

“A lot of the training I provide isn’t rocket science, it is good quality nursing care. If nurses can sit and have a cup of tea and a chat with a patient, they are calming them while improving fluid and nutrition intake.”

University Hospital Southampton Trust, which runs Southampton General Hospital, has become the first in the country to have two resident dementia nurse specialists following the appointment of Admiral nurse Adam Smith.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • michael stone

    It strikes me this is likely to be right - dementia plus anything else is quite complex, and I'm not 100% convinced that the NHS is great at treating 2 unrelated simultaneous conditions, even if one isn't dementia. But I could be wrong.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • the title, no doubt added by NT, seems rather inaccurate. Dementia is nothing new and when I trained in the mid 70s I worked on a psycho-geriatric ward with 30 patients all with dementia and one hc professional, a dentist, in her early 50s with pre-senile dementia.

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