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Doctor Decries British Hospital Ban on Sitting, Flowers

March 17, 2010

The practices of prohibiting hospital visitors from sitting beside a patient on the bed when visiting and banning flowers from hospital rooms in British health care facilities was the topic of a Wednesday editorial in the BMJ medical journal.

In the commentary, author Dr. Iona Heath, a London-based general practitioner, argued that, “Rules that mostly diminish rather than enhance the joys of life have no place in hospitals, where joy is too often in short supply.”

“Doctors should never be discouraged from sitting, because patients consistently estimate that they have been given more time when the doctor sits down rather than stands,” she wrote in the March 16 column. “Standing makes the conversation seem hurried even when it is not…[And] some of the most intimate and effective interactions between doctor and patient that I have either witnessed or experienced have occurred while the doctor has been sitting on the patient’s bed. Such interactions are precious and should be made easier rather than more difficult.”

When contacted by AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng for comment, officials from the UK Department of Health said that there was no national ban on either sitting or flowers, noting that such policy is dictated by individual hospitals and health care facilities.

“It is considered good practice by some (hospitals) that visitors and staff should not sit on beds, in order to reduce the risk of transmitting infections from one patient to the next,” the agency told Cheng.

In her editorial, Heath warned against becoming too concerned about these types of safety practices and neglecting to treat patients with “humanity, common sense, and even humor.”

“Too many patients report that the technological care in hospital is excellent but that the human dimension of care is often lacking,” she advises.

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