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Researchers warn noisy hospitals can lead to staff 'burnout'

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Noise pollution in UK hospitals is getting worse with levels “regularly exceeding international recommendations”, researchers have warned.

They claimed excessively noisy hospitals were not only bad for patients but for staff too.

“It is essential that future solutions should have greater patient participation as a key feature”

Dr Andreas Xyrichis

Researchers from King’s College London and the University of Arts London (UAL) said high noise levels impacted negatively on staff performance and wellbeing and could contribute to “burnout”.

They added noise pollution was known to hinder communication among staff, causing annoyance, irritation and fatigue, and detrimentally affect the quality and safety of care provided.

Noise pollution was also reported to impact patients and their ability to rest, heal and recover, the researchers found.

In the UK, 40% of hospital patients were bothered by noise at night.

Researchers claimed those in hospital for several nights were left feeling trapped and stressed, leading to requests for premature discharge and heightened risk of trauma and readmission.

Lead author for the research, Dr Andreas Xyrichis from King’s College London, said: “Even in intensive care units, which cater for the most vulnerable patients, noise levels over 100dB have been measured, the equivalent of loud music through headphones.

“We know hospital noise has disruptive consequences for sleep - machine sounds in particular have a greater negative effect on arousal than human voices.

“Post-hospitalisation recovery is also compromised. For example, coronary care patients treated during noisy periods were found to have a higher incidence of rehospitalisation compared to those treated during quieter periods.”

The team from King’s College and UAL said a way to help address the problem would be to educate health professionals to encourage a culture in which noise reduction was considered an integral part of safe, high-quality care.

“Even in intensive care units, which cater for the most vulnerable patients, noise levels over 100dB have been measured”

Dr Andreas Xyrichis

Recommendations from the research also suggested patients and families needed clear information about likely noise levels during admissions. This would help better prepare patients and give them the opportunity to consider simple solutions such as headphones, the research found. 

Dr Xyrichis said sound masking – the addition of background sound to drown out other potentially disturbing noises – had been used in offices for many years and had recently “shown promise” for improving sleep in hospitals.

The researchers found that not all noise in hospitals would be considered a nuisance for patients.

They noted how some found the sound of the tea trolley pleasing because they associated it with a hot drink. While ringing telephones were also welcomed by some intensive care patients because they took it as a sign that they were not alone.

They said more research investment was needed to “measure patients’ perceptions of noise”.

Dr Xyrichis added: “So far, patients have been seen as passive recipients of hospital noise rather than active participants in its creation.

“It is essential that future solutions should have greater patient participation as a key feature.”

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