We share top tips and advice on how to get the best hospital care for your elderly parent or relative. Being in hospital and caring for someone whilst they are there have changed somewhat since the onset of covid, and will doubtless be subject to any new restrictions.
Here are useful things you can do to help ensure that your Mum or Dad are receiving the best care whilst in hospital.
5 tips for getting the best care in hospital
1. Providing the right information
- Contact details: contact details for the next of kin which may be you – as this will be the only point of contact the hospital will have, and the person with whom to discuss your parent’s condition. (worth agreeing with siblings in advance to ensure consistency and continuity, and to avoid unnecessary duplication).
- Prescribed medicines: if your relative is taking any prescribed medicines, be sure that medical staff know the details. If possible, take medications with you so that they know the prescribed dosage and frequency. Particularly important are blood thinners such as Warfarin. GPs often provide patients with a card listing what medicines they have prescribed.
- Pre-existing conditions: does your relative have any pre-existing medical conditions that may affect their care? Have they had any surgery previously?
- If they live with dementia you may need to give information about their capacity to understand and make decisions.
- Advance Decision and a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR): if your relative has signed a legal order regarding end of life medical care, inform staff now in case this becomes relevant.
- Power of Attorney: if there is a power of attorney in place to deal with medical decisions (a Personal Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney), let staff know and provide the relevant paperwork.
- Allergies: make sure that staff are aware of any allergies that your relative might have.
- Dietary needs: inform staff if your relative has any special dietary requirements
2. Ensuring good communication
Particularly important if visiting restrictions are in place, or if your parent is unable to make regular contact with you.
If your parent has a mobile phone then ensure it has enough credit it if it’s a pay as you go. Make sure they have a phone charger with them.
There may be a telephone by your parents’ bed that you can call to speak with them directly.
You may also find that the ward has a process to ensure regular communication with next of kin. If there doesn’t seem to be such a process, try and find a number for the ward itself so that you can call direct. Try and establish the best time of day to call, and the best person to speak to – ward sister or doctor treating your parent.
3. Understanding your parent's treatment
It can be difficult to keep up with changes to medication or care decisions, particularly if visiting is tricky. There will be a plan of care whilst your parent is in hospital, so you can hopefully keep track of everything including any changes along the way – write them down if necessary and keep asking questions. If something doesnt seem quite right – ask a question about it.
There may be circumstances where your parent or you need to give consent for a procedure so discuss the plans with both your parent and their medical team to understand the treatment and the consequences.
One of our readers said she received regular updates about her Mum’s situation from the nurses. One day however she was told some very curious test results… on further questioning it turned out the nurse was giving her someone else’s results…
4. Understand hospital life
Here are a few things you should consider and check for your elderly parent receiving care in hospital.
- Visiting: find out when visiting times are, and how many people are allowed to visit. Check if these are strictly enforced, or whether there is some flexibility.
- Personal care: find out what care is given to your relative and if their needs are being met. If you will be visiting regularly, you should be able to help with personal care if you want to.
- Eating and drinking: make sure staff know about any specific dietary requirements that your relative has and if they need help with eating and drinking. You may be able to help out at meal times, or bring additional food in with you.
5. If things go wrong
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) sets national standards called ‘essential standards of care’, which all hospitals in England must meet when providing care in hospital (links to the equivalent organisations across the UK can be found below). Everyone in hospital has a right to expect:
- to be treated with dignity and respect, to be involved and told what’s happening at every stage
- care, treatment and support that meets their needs
- to be safe
- to be cared for by staff with the right skills to do their jobs properly
- the hospital to routinely check the quality of its services.
If you feel that these standards are not being met and you have suspicions that your elderly parent is not receiving the appropriate care in hospital you should complain to the hospital staff in the first instance. If the problem is not resolved to your satisfaction, or it is a serious complaint, make an official complaint to the hospital. All hospitals have an official complaints procedure.
It may feel very difficult to “complain” about care a parent receives. Keeping records of conversations with medical staff is a good idea, and just “keeping on it” should help to minimise this.