Relatives should be more involved in supplying care for their loved ones in hospital as long as it does not replace NHS support, a carers group has said.
Royal College of Nursing head Dr Peter Carter urged more flexibility in visiting times to “allow relatives to help make patients comfortable” and make hospital stays less stressful but not at the expense of trained nurses.
Carter was qualifying his remarks, interpreted in the national press as him calling for families to be encouraged to help patients during mealtimes and take them to the toilet to help busy staff on some wards.
“We would never suggest that relatives perform tasks that nurses are trained and paid to do, or that they should be compelled to carry out any task,” he said. “However, we know from areas such as children’s care that having familiar people involved at mealtimes, for example, can make hospital stays in particular less stressful for all concerned.”
The Princess Royal Trust for Carers said the intention was positive and pointed out that families wanted to provide care for their relatives but were often “excluded unnecessarily”.
However, chief executive Liz Fenton warned: “Their contribution must always be seen as additional to a properly resourced NHS with appropriate staffing.
“Taking on a caring role should always be the positive choice of the person concerned – not because their family member will otherwise be left uncared for.”
Department of Health chief nursing officer Christine Beasley said: “Carers and relatives do amazing work and we welcome and value their help but this must be in addition to NHS care, not instead of it.
“Nurses should spend their time caring for patients and it’s important to look at the way wards are run to help ensure this happens.”
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