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Practice comment

Amid the tinsel and the trees, ‘tis also the season to be tactful

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Nurses need to strike a balance between organising Christmas festivities and being mindful that some patients may not celebrate it or feel too ill to join in, says Maria Sinfield

The wards are well underway with Christmas preparations, upholding long held practices steeped in custom and practice. At the Royal Bolton Hospital, from nowhere, Christmas trees and all manner of decorations have appeared.

And, while linen cupboards have become taboo for the storage of such items nurses have risen to the challenge -their inventiveness in terms of finding the perfect hidey hole, without compromising environmental cleanliness knows no bounds. An abundance of entrepreneurial talent emerges, with staff exploiting all manner of opportunities to raise the all important funds to make the festive season a time of celebration.

During this time it is worth reflecting on how nurses can strike a balance between celebrations that can boost morale for both patients and staff, while being mindful and respectful that some patients may not celebrate Christmas, and others may feel too poorly to join in the celebrations.

We serve a multi-cultural community, and it is important to acknowledge and respect that. At our hospital we are fortunate to have a multi-faith team, which as part of their care teach us about many different traditions and celebrations. Such sensitivity and respect of other religions or faith groups is evident on the wards at Christmas, where celebrations are not imposed on patients and staff, but care is also taken so that they do not feel isolated from activities. 

Nurses are inherently adept at perceiving the different needs of patients in their care - they manage to create a more relaxed and festive atmosphere, while still dealing sensitively with the needs of poorly patients and their loved ones. There are no rules of how to do this, it is something that they do without being aware of, and the degree of skill and sensitivity that this demands cannot be underestimated.

Staff go out of their way to make sure that Christmas day on the wards is special for everyone. Visiting restrictions are lifted, and a camaraderie is created that embraces everyone. Being in hospital can make patients feel isolated and apart, and for those who are on their own these feelings can be much more pronounced. On Christmas day, some patients are able to leave the hospital for a few hours to spend time with their family or friends - for those who cannot, staff do what they can to make it a day to remember. It has been known for some relatives who otherwise would have been on their own, to have been able to spend the day at the hospital with their loved one. 

Our staff’s experience is that regardless of beliefs, patients enjoy being involved and part of the festivities. For this reason, great care is taken with the choice of gifts, mindful of individual beliefs and needs, and the gifts have always been well received by all patients. Ever resourceful, staff are always on the look out for irresistible deals such as the three for two offers, or ‘buy one get one free’ promotions. These staff are easy to spot, armed with an overflowing basket and doggedly marching up and down aisles, ever vigilant for the perfect gift.

Nurses are touchingly aware of the sensitivities of a death during the festive season, offering help and comfort to the bereaved. Both staff and families have the additional support of a dynamic bereavement team at our hospital and they are available at all times. For both staff and patients, Christmas can also be a time where the loss of a loved one is all the more poignant, evoking memories of previous festive times spent together with family and friends.  

We are privileged to receive overwhelming support from our local community, such as the Salvation Army. These groups generously give up their own time at Christmas to visit the wards, talk and even sing with patients. This is a truly moving and memorable experience for all, regardless of beliefs.

So my thoughts and wishes during this festive period are not only with our patients who sadly have to spend time in hospital,  but with our staff and local community who go that extra mile to ensure patients who are separated from their friends and family are cared for.

MARIA SINFIELD, BSc, RGN, is acting director, nursing, Royal Bolton Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

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