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Do we do everything we can to uphold inpatients' privacy and dignity?

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After spending a week as an inpatient on an NHS ward, Josephine realised how little privacy patients have in a ward environment.

“Do you know, I don’t know why they pull the curtains, because you can hear everything, can’t you?

A couple of months ago, I was lucky to be a guest at an NHS hospital.

I use the word “lucky” because had I not been rushed there at the time, I am not sure what would have happened to me. I was very ill, I had a temperature of 39 degrees but I was ice cold with a non-stop blinding headache.

So with my hand on my heart, I want to thank everyone who took care of me: from the GP who called the ambulance, the paramedics, the A&E staff, the ward nurses and doctors, and of course my fellow patients who kept me company.

But this piece however is not about my admission; it is about my experience of the lack of privacy on the wards. It is about questioning the Department of Health’s Essence of Care (2010) Factor 5 on privacy and confidentiality.

In the one week I spent as an inpatient, I could have written a book on other people’s diagnoses, treatment and discharge plans, and oh with their full names and dates of birth as well.

Now don’t get me wrong, this problem of lack of privacy on our wards is not an isolated case that happens at one hospital, rather it is now constant experience both in and out of the hospital environment. It is common to hear other people’s conversation in the world that we live today.

What with loud telephone calls, private conversations taking place in public and non-stop alerts on our mobile phones, we are constantly bombarded with other people’s conversation.

But this is not about the open space or communal environment, this is about a place and space where we expect our privacy and information to be confidential and protected; an NHS hospital ward.

At a time on the ward, we (patients) knew more about each other than the consultants and nurses because after each ward round we sympathised with each other, talked about how we came to be on the ward - and then we discussed the issue of the lack of privacy.

So as I prepared for my discharge, I thought about my privacy, your privacy and our privacy when we are patients on an open NHS ward.

Without underpinning the observational and listening skills of our esteemed nurses on open wards, I would like to know why it is okay for the consultants and nurses to give patients’ information in such loud voices without due consideration of who else can overhear the conversation?

This is not to point accusing fingers at nurses or consultants, rather it is to raise awareness about the lack of privacy on open wards. I want to ask the Department of Health how they expect health professionals to uphold the DH (2010) Essence of Care Factor 5 privacy and confidentiality on open wards with flimsy curtains that separates patients’ beds and belongings, but not their confidential information.

Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi is a mental health nurse

 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I was admitted via A&E to a ward and placed opposite an elderly lady. at 3 a.m. the doctor came to the lady and questioned her about a fall.
    It was very obvious via the information given that this lady was very very vulnerable and being sexually abused by a very abusive husband.

    Being the early hours of the morning, sound appears to carry much further, but I had to question why at 3 a.m. anyone should be expected to answer doctors questions when what we really needed was sleep.

    The next day the ladies husband visited, the attitude towards him was very hostile, a chill filled the air when he asked to use a chair from beside another bed.

    The next morning I asked the consultant that came to see me, why we had to be questioned ta 3 a.m. and gave a very brief account ... in a very low voice ... of what we had overheard.
    I was snapped at told I should have been asleep!

    The Caldicott agreement states very clearly that patients privacy should be protected but those that least obey these rules are NHS staff.

    I have banned my GP from sharing any information about me with the hospital.

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  • Thank you so much for this comment.

    It is surprising that the doctor expected you to be asleep when the noise levels on some of the the wards are so loud and some of them were not designed to promote a good night or day sleep.

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