Hospitals ‘ill-equipped’ for patients with dementia says top nurse

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Many hospitals are ill-equipped for patients with dementia when they are admitted with a medical problem, a leading nurse has claimed.

Jeni Bell, the UK’s first hospital-based Admiral nurse specialist, said care could be transformed if nurses were given the opportunity to “just sit and have a cup of tea” with patients rather than be restricted to purely medical interaction.

Ms Bell, based at Southampton General Hospital, said: “People with dementia don’t go into hospital because they have dementia, they are there because they are physically unwell but, unfortunately, acute hospital staff have been ill-equipped to deal with the added needs that dementia presents, both for the person with dementia and their carers.

“Many hospitals have lost that sense of creativity to think in simple terms about how to meet the physical and psychological needs of patients, so much so it has almost eradicated relationships between nurses and patients in some settings.”

Speaking ahead of Dementia Awareness Week, which starts on Sunday, she added: “If patients are confined to bays, they will wander off and touch things that might be dangerous, but if you give them a table and encourage patients to join each other for a biscuit and a chat, they will relax and have a much more positive experience of being in hospital.”

Until Ms Bell’s appointment in September, mental health nurses who specialise in dementia care, known as Admiral nurses, only formed part of community nursing teams. In her newly created hospital role, Ms Bell, a former clinical-lead Admiral nurse in the community, shadows clinical staff and oversees a training and development programme which looks at understanding patients’ body language and how to handle those who do not interact verbally.

She also oversaw a pioneering dementia-friendly ward for patients with memory problems.

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