The accessibility of hospitals is a real concern for many disabled people and their families. My family and I had first-hand experience of this recently when I was admitted with rigor and suspected sepsis. Thankfully the diagnosis turned out not to be so severe and ended up being a bad UTI. But I quickly realised that being in hospital ain’t easy when you have Muscular Dystrophy. Becoming ill when you have a disability can be a real challenge and lead to many more difficulties as I learned during that stay.
NHS Crisis and Accessibility of Hospitals For Disabled People
My hospital stay and the massive response I got from my previous post all about the experience opened my eyes to the many issues that the NHS face in regards to providing appropriate care for vulnerable and disabled people. It made me question a few things, but most importantly, what changes can be made? The following are some of the things that can be done to improve the NHS crisis and accessibility of hospitals for disabled people and their carers.
Training & Awareness
I understand NHS staff can’t know everything about everything including all the ins and outs of every disability. That’s just not possible and that’s why we have specialists in specific areas. However, I think at the very least a basic level of training and awareness of complex needs is crucial to allow them to be better equipped. Often disabled inpatients are forced to go without some of their vital care needs being met. Even having to go without basic personal hygiene (showering) due to poor staffing levels, lack of training and equipment. It can be a case of forfeiting one for another. This really shouldn’t be happening and especially not in this day and age. Improving staff training will provide a better understanding and awareness of how to manage the patients care more effectively as well as moving them in such a way to lessen the risk or causing further discomfort and pain.
Communication & Attitudes
I had the unfortunate experience of being under the care of the most arrogant and patronising consultant I’ve ever encountered. This particular consultant belittled and spoke down to me in such a horrible way that I believe he was doing it because I was disabled and thought I couldn’t speak for myself. Like a lot of disabled people, we often experience people speaking to the person we are with instead of speaking directly to us. They assume we can’t think or speak for ourselves because we are in a wheelchair or have a disability. I tried to make myself very clear to all the hospital staff I encountered from the get-go to ensure I didn’t experience that.
However, it clearly didn’t make any difference to this consultant who obviously didn’t like the fact I knew my body and disability better than him. People with a disability tend to have a greater understanding of how things will affect them, what’s going to work and what’s not. Of course, the doctors and staff are medically trained, but I believe if they were to listen and work with us, that the outcome would be a lot better. Some disabled people may not be able to communicate verbally and therefore use other forms of communication. Staff need to be aware of this and not ignore it as it is still a valid form of communication.
Aids & Equipment
When you think of hospitals you immediately think of amazing lifesaving and high-tech machinery. And you would be right. Our NHS hospitals have some fantastic machines that do all sorts of amazing things. You’d also think that hospitals will without a doubt be the most accessible place for disabled people, right? Well, sadly that is not the case and in actual fact, hospitals are inaccessible in many ways. The lack of equipment such as hoists is one of the reasons why I feel hospitals aren’t disability friendly.
Without hoists, disabled people who are unable to stand or be manually lifted are put at risk of injury if they are moved manually or worst still, have to go without the medical treatment they require. All hospitals should have hoists in each ward. I’ve heard from other disabled people that nurses had to hunt down a working hoist and finally when a fourth hoist was found did they realise it was charged and working. Each hoist should be in working order and fully charged at all times. I really don’t think that is asking too much especially when there is so much money spent on less necessary things.
Accessible Toilets & Shower Rooms
I’ve been in my fair share of hospitals throughout my life and I’ve always felt disappointed by their accessible toilets. They are usually quite small leaving very little space for manoeuvring. This is particularly difficult and dangerous as a wheelchair user who needs assistance from one or two carers. The challenge is even greater if you require the use of a hoist for toileting as there is zero space for this. I feel the layout of hospital accessible toilets can often be some of the worst I’ve been in.
I remember attending an outpatients appointment to see one of my consultants and having to use the accessible toilet. When we entered the toilet I instantly knew it was going to be tricky as there wasn’t enough space next to the toilet to transfer to and from my wheelchair. The sink was positioned too close to the toilet which meant I had to sit sideways, only adding to the difficulty of transferring. Hospitals should be leading the way with the best accessible and changing places toilets in every hospital.
Provisions & Open Access for Carers
Like a lot of disabled people, I had to have someone stay with me at all times whilst I was in the hospital. Otherwise, I feel that I wouldn’t have received the essential care and support from the hospital staff that I need day-to-day. Instead, this care and support was provided by my partner and Mum. Without them, I honestly believe I would have been either left sitting in my wheelchair or lying in the hospital bed unable to move, call for help, eat or drink myself for endless hours. Due to my disability, I have muscle weakness in my arms so I would not have the strength to push the call button if I needed someone.
During my hospital stay, we noticed that the nurses very rarely come and check on you. Again this concerned me if I didn’t have family or a carer staying with me. Would I be forgotten about for hours? Would I receive medication on time? I lost count the number of times my mum or partner had to go and look for a nurse to remind them I needed my medication or something checked. I’m not blaming the nurses, it’s not their fault they are short-staffed. If there can’t be more resources for staff to help patients with disabilities and complex needs then there needs to be more provisions in place for friends, family, carers or PA’s to stay overnight in the hospital.
My mum stayed overnight with me, but there was no camping bed provided and the reclining chair next to my bed was broken so it wouldn’t recline. These are simple things that can be made available to make things a little easier especially when family or carers are doing so much to care for the person, often more than the actual hospital staff.
These are just some of the things that can be done to improve the NHS crisis and accessibility of hospitals for disabled people and their carers. Disabled people may refuse to go into hospital for vital treatment for fear of previous bad experiences recurring, long waiting times, accessibility issues, lack of care and equipment. These simple and inexpensive changes would make a huge difference to so many disabled people.
What can be done to improve the NHS crisis and accessibility of hospitals for disabled people and their carers?
What has your experience of hospitals been like?