Leading nurse warns many hospitals 'ill equipped' to care for patients with dementia

Jeni Bell

One of the country’s leading dementia nurses has warned many hospitals remain “ill equipped” to care for patients who suffer from the condition but are admitted with a medical problem.

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.

“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,” she said ahead of Dementia Awareness Week, which runs from May 19 to 25.

“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.”  

Until Ms Bell’s appointment at Southampton General Hospital in September last year, 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 the development of a pioneering dementia-friendly ward for patients with memory problems who are admitted with a medical condition, which includes brightly coloured doors to help patients remember which bays they are staying in and a lowered nurses’ station renamed ‘reception’ to improve accessibility and ensure patients feel more comfortable to approach.

“I am passionate about reforming hospital care for patients with dementia and their families as it can be a particularly difficult and distressing experience,” explained Ms Bell. 

“A lot of the training I provide isn’t rocket science – it is good quality nursing care. If nurses can sit and have a cup of tea and a chat with a patient, they are calming them while improving fluid and nutrition intake.”

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.”

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Southampton General Hospital, has now become the first in the country to have two resident dementia nurse specialists following the appointment of Admiral nurse Adam Smith. 

As part of Dementia Awareness Week, carers’ organisation Home Instead Senior Care will hold a support workshop for people who have close relatives or friends who suffer from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

The event will be held in the Heartbeat Education Centre at Southampton General Hospital from 2pm to 4pm on Monday (20 May). For more information, visit www.homeinstead.co.uk/southampton

Posted on Friday 17 May 2013