Hospital trust project is 'breakthrough moment' for dementia patients

Lowered nurse station

Doctors and nurses in Southampton are revolutionising the way patients with dementia are treated when they are admitted to hospital with a medical condition.

In a pioneering project, staff at Southampton General Hospital have created a 28-bed ‘dementia-friendly’ ward and introduced the UK’s first hospital-based specialist nurse.

The development, led by matron Jill Young and her team in the medicine for older people unit, has been hailed a breakthrough moment for dementia patients and their families.

“We know dementia patients can be extremely confused in a hospital environment, particularly when they require medical treatment, and relatives are often concerned their dementia needs are neglected in the absence of carers or family,” explained Jill.

“That’s why we embarked on this project – it gives us a chance to show we are determined not just to improve care for these patients, but to give their families and friends the confidence that we understand the condition and can offer the right support.”

With the help of advisers, including community nurses and national charity Dementia UK, the team analysed everything from door colours and floor patterns, to artwork and the height of the nurses’ station to create the most suitable environment for patients, relatives and carers.

Among the innovations are brightly coloured doors to help patients remember which bay they are staying in and images such as umbrellas, lighthouses and starfish instead of bed numbers to provide a visual memory aid.

Doors patients do not need to enter, such as cleaning stores and staff offices, blend in with surrounding walls, while the nurses’ station has been lowered and renamed ‘reception’ to improve accessibility and ensure patients feel more comfortable to approach.

Additionally, paperwork is locked in cupboards out of sight to keep the area clutter-free and visiting time restrictions have been lifted to give access to carers and relatives at any time of the day or night.

Jill added: “We have worked hard to focus on the small things, like colour recognition, less clutter, better communication between staff and patients, to prevent further confusing patients and to give them and their families a sense of normality and we look forward to assessing the impact it has.”

Until now, mental health nurses who specialise in dementia care, known as Admiral Nurses, have formed part of community nursing teams.

In the newly-created hospital post, Jeni Bell, a former clinical lead Admiral Nurse in the community, will shadow clinical staff and oversee a training and development programme which will look at understanding patients’ body language and how to handle those who do not interact verbally.

Barbara Stephens, chief executive of Dementia UK, said: “This project, particularly the introduction of the first Admiral Nurse specialist to be based in a large acute hospital, is a breakthrough moment in the care of dementia patients in hospital and a model of what we want – and need – to see across the country."

Posted on Thursday 6 September 2012