The latest SBRI Challenges

1 December 2022

How do we improve access to information for relatives of patients whilst their loved ones are in hospital and reduce the demand on staff time? The latest SBRI Challenges. New competitions open.

Challenge background

When a family member is an inpatient in a hospital setting, it can be a challenging time for relatives who are concerned and want timely information on their loved one’s condition. This is especially the case for urgent admissions or ones where the patient’s diagnosis, condition or prognosis are unclear. Even when patients are admitted electively, families still want to receive updates, but do not always need to speak to someone.  

Restrictions to visiting during the pandemic may have eased, but even pre-pandemic, the challenges in getting through to wards and departments by phone calls was, and still is, the biggest dissatisfaction raised by relatives to our Patient Experience Team. 

Relatives suffer stress at not knowing what is going on and patients suffer as they worry about their family and whether they know what is required of them, such as discharge arrangements. This situation particularly affects those patients who may not have or be able to use their own phones or who have cognitive limitations such as dementia or mental health needs. 

Staff cover great distances to answer telephones, which often ring off, or waste time tracking down someone who can speak about a patient authoritatively, all whilst neglecting their own patients’ care. The removal and replacement of protective clothing and handwashing to answer the phone adds additional burden. Furthermore, due to redeployment, staff are often working with teams they don’t know, making good communication more difficult. Add to that the exhaustion of staff and the result is an environment of inadequate communication. 

A survey of nurses working in acute hospitals by the Royal Voluntary Service charity identified that there are two fifths of patients without visitors who require additional support from the nursing team. A lack of visitors was felt by nurses to have a detrimental effect on patients’ health and speed of recovery in a number of ways. These include; they are less likely to be mobile (43%), less likely to be stimulated through conversation (56%) and less likely to follow medical advice. A considerable number, 37%, were more likely to have a longer stay in hospital.

The current system of telephoning is not effective. Relatives can be on hold in some cases for hours before they get an answer and then do not necessarily get any information that is relevant to the patient’s current condition. Reportedly, they don’t always get an answer or have calls returned when they have got through and have been advised that someone else needs to call them back.

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