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300-Year History of U.K. Hospital Visiting Times Reviewed

Visitors still a concern for hospital staffs, who fear interference, infections, stress on patients

FRIDAY, Dec. 21 (HealthDay News) -- A review of visiting times for patients in U.K. hospitals during the past three centuries reveals an evolving philosophy influenced by fears of infection, concerns about stress caused to the patient from visitors, and staff sentiments about interference from outsiders. The review was published in the Dec. 22 issue of BMJ.

Sadia Ismail of Pinderfields General Hospital in Wakefield, and Graham Mulley of St. James's University Hospital in Leeds, both in the United Kingdom, compiled published histories of several U.K. hospitals and conducted a literature review to trace the changes of visiting restrictions and investigate optimal policies.

In the 1700s and 1800s, many hospitals seldom restricted visiting. However, through the 1800s, epidemics of cholera, smallpox, scarlet fever and other diseases restricted visiting. Children have commonly been banned or discouraged from visits, even as recently as 2006 during a norovirus outbreak. The past 50 years has seen more openness give way to more restrictions in the 1980s and 1990s. The authors suggest that patients and staff use "contracts" to agree upon the parameters of visits.

"A balance needs to be struck between patients' and relatives' emotional needs and the need to carry out clinical duties. It is often during visiting time when staff can connect with patients and their carers. This can lead to new perspectives on a patient's home and social circumstances, and greater understanding of the interactions and dynamics of the family. Ultimately, flexibility in visiting hours and mutual understanding will lead to more satisfied visitors," the authors conclude.

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