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Alison Gadsby: ‘Patients need visits from their families and friends’

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Healthcare associated infections are big news these days, which leaves me slightly flummoxed for several reasons. When I was training as a nurse, I don’t remember the evil MRSA rearing its ugly head.

And no, I wasn’t a student who couldn’t be relied upon to remember my name for most of the day.

I was on the ball but infections were certainly not the issue they are in today’s not very clean climate.

Am I recreating a rose-tinted past when all was well with the world? Or were there really fewer infections?

Say we assume the incidence of infections in hospitals has increased. Measures need to be taken to halt their rampage. At a hospital I know, and at others I’m reliably informed about, visiting hours have been drastically cut to curb infections. Apparently this measure is working and rates of infection are dropping.

Great news, you may say, but I’m not sure I agree. First of all, where’s the science bit? Show me the research that says limiting visiting to one hour a day actually does limit infections.

And, while you’re there, show me the bit that says vicars have been proven to never carry any form of infection – because they are the only visitors allowed in at any time and for longer periods.

There doesn’t seem to be any consistency across trusts. At another hospital I know, visitors are allowed into many departments, including those with patients with suppressed immunity, at any time of day, and HCAIs are nowhere to be seen.

And what about the importance of mental well-being if you are physically unwell and trying to heal? It is well known that people who suffer from mental health problems have better outcomes if they are surrounded by support, be that from family, friends or great nurses. Being in hospital for physical health problems can also have an adverse influence on mental health. So put these two facts together and what do you get? It is really important for people in hospital to have visitors to promote their mental health and therefore physical recovery.

Severely cutting visiting hours will prevent many people seeing their loved ones. So, while this may mean fewer infections, it could mean longer recovery times and perhaps greater susceptibility to further illness due to feelings of isolation. I’m all for making hospitals healthier places but it is also essential to keep the bigger picture in mind.

Alison Gadsby is a mental health nurse in Cambridge

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