Going into hospital can be a stressful prospect. You could be worried about the treatment you’ll be receiving or whether you’ll get any support afterwards. This guide takes you through the process of admission to discharge, covering what you can do to prepare and what support you can expect to receive.
Preparing for your stay
Choosing the hospital
If you live in England you can generally choose the hospital you’d like to be treated in. Check out this search tool to find details about different hospitals in your area. In particular, it might be useful to find out about:
- How convenient the hospital is for visits from family and friends
- Disabled access to the building
- Car parking charges
- Patient reviews of different departments
- Visiting hours for the ward you’ll be in
Alternatively, you can contact the Patients Association Helpline on 0845 608 44 55 to ask for this information.
Finding out about how your benefits are affected
Certain benefits are affected by a stay in hospital, depending on how long you stay. To find out whether any benefits you receive are affected:
- take a look at this online guide from Turn2Us, or
- ring the Turn2Us benefits helpline on 0808 802 2000 (open 9am-8pm weekdays)
If any of your benefits are affected by your stay in hospital, you’ll need to ring whoever provides your benefit. It could be your local JobCentre Plus, HMRC, the Pension Service, or your local council.
Managing your house while you’re away
If you’re away for a few days and you live alone, you might want to arrange with a friend to house sit or collect your post for you while you’re gone.
If you have pets, you might want to contact the Cinnamon Trust. They may be able to look after your pet while you’re in hospital.
Find out if you need to pay for your travel
You might be able to get your travel costs to hospital covered if you receive certain benefits. For more information on when you might be eligible for money back on your transport to and from hospital, read our guide here.
If you’re not eligible for travel costs, there might still be local voluntary organisations that can help. Call the HERE helpline for information on what’s in your local area.
Think about what you might want with you
- Medication – if you need to take medication regularly, make sure you take enough with you to last the visit. If you don’t have enough, make sure you get a prescription that covers your stay.
- Food – Patient experience of food served at the hospital can vary, and you might want to bring your own selection of snacks with you (providing there aren’t any restrictions on what you can eat before or after treatment).
- Something to pass the time – if it looks like you’ll be waiting a long time before treatment or recovering for a while afterwards, you might want to think about any books you could take or music to play to yourself while you’re there.
- Money – you may want to buy food or magazines throughout your stay.
Contact the hospital if you need special help
If you have a learning disability or require a translator, you should call the hospital in advance to make sure that health professionals can adapt to your needs.
How admission works
Once your hospital appointment is booked you’ll receive an admission letter. This will include information such as:
- The date and time of the appointment
- Instructions on where to go
- Instructions on whether you can or can’t eat or drink and for how long
- Information about the ward you’ll be staying in
- Information about any tests you might need before or after treatment
In some cases, you might be asked to attend a pre-admissions assessment. This could be in person or over the phone. The assessment will include questions about your medical history and general health. In some cases, you might be screened for your risk of MRSA.
Once you’re at hospital, you’ll be asked to fill in a admission form, where you can provide details of:
- Emergency contacts
- Who you might want with you
- Any equipment you might need with you that the hospital can’t provide
What to expect from your treatment
You should expect certain standards of treatment and care while you’re staying in a hospital run by the NHS. Under the NHS constitution, you have a range of rights regarding your treatment and care in hospital. If you feel that any of these rights aren’t being upheld, you are entitled to make a complaint about the treatment you received.
You have the right to:
- receive care and treatment that is appropriate to you, meets your needs and reflects your preferences
- not be unlawfully discriminated against in the provision of NHS services including on the grounds of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion, or belief
- receive treatment within the maximum waiting times
- being treated by appropriately qualified and experienced staff
- receive care in a clean, safe, secure and suitable environment
- receive suitable and nutritious food and hydration
- be treated with dignity and respect
- be able to accept or refuse treatment
- be given information about your treatment and test options, including risks and benefits
- access your own health records and have any inaccuracies corrected
- privacy in your health information
- same-sex sleeping accommodation
- have any complaints about NHS services acknowledged in three days and properly investigated
If you’re not happy with any aspect of your treatment or care, raise the issue with your doctor or nurse as soon as possible. You can also get in touch with the hospital’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). If this doesn’t resolve the problem, you can make a formal complaint. For a detailed guide to the NHS complaints process, click here.
Discharge – what to expect
You might be worried about whether you’ll be prepared to go home after your treatment. Don’t worry – staff are responsible for making sure you make it back safely and you have the support you need once you’re at home. This section looks at what to expect from the discharge process.
Before you’re discharged from hospital, the staff treating you should:
- Talk to you about how your treatment might affect your ability to manage, what limits there will be on what you can and can’t do and for how long.
- Make sure that any equipment you need at home is in place. This might involve having an occupational therapy assessment while you’re in hospital.
- Give you a supply of any medication you need to take home
- Inform a family member or carer that you’re being discharged
You should also have an assessment to work out what support you would need after hospital. If you feel that you will need support once you get home, and you haven’t been offered an assessment, ask for one. We cover the possible outcomes below:
If you don’t need ongoing support
If you don’t have very complex needs at the time you were discharged, you’ll have what is known as a minimal discharge. The hospital should make sure that you can get home and that you have any medical supplies you need.
If you only need some day-to-day help
If you need only a little day to day help at home, you might be directed to local organisations who can help, such as local suppliers of assistive equipment or home care agencies who provide help around the home.
If you need ongoing support
If you’re likely to have ongoing health and care needs after discharge, a care plan should be drawn up setting out what support you would get after hospital. This support will be provided by the NHS and/or your local council. You should expect to see details of:
- who is responsible for providing your support
- when your care will be reviewed
- who to contact in an emergency
- how much your care should cost (if anything).
A range of support might go in this care plan, including:
- NHS Continuing Healthcare or NHS-funded nursing care (read more here)
- intermediate care or reablement care
- rehabilitation or palliative care
- equipment, such as mobility aids or specialist beds
- other community support from the local council such as transport or home care
If you’ve decided to receive short-term care such as reablement or intermediate care, your long-term needs should be reassessed once this care finishes (usually after a 6-week period).
What if this doesn’t happen?
There are situations in which you might not be happy with the way your discharge from hospital was handled:
- The discharge process wasn’t carried out correctly
- There isn’t enough support in your care plan
If you think this is the case, you might want to make a complaint or challenge the decisions made. For more information, read our guidance on what to do when things go wrong with NHS care.
What other support can I get afterwards?
There’s a whole range of support you can access after a hospital visit regardless of what comes out of the assessment you have before you’re discharged. You might be able to access:
- Practical support – such as community transport, someone to help around the house, or home equipment or adaptations
- Financial support – if you struggle with day-to-day tasks you might be eligible for a disability-related benefit, as well as discounts on healthcare or transportation
- Emotional support – there are plenty of groups you can join to talk to other people about your situation if you’re finding things hard after your hospital visit
- Support for anyone who cares for you – if you’re going to need help from a family member or friend from now on, they may also be entitled to support to help them manage their caring role
For more information, read our guide to coming out of hospital:
Can I arrange support in advance?
You can’t usually ask for council or NHS funded care to be set up before your admission as no-one can be sure what support you might need (if any), your admission could be delayed, and your likely discharge date might change.
However, you’re free to arrange and pay for private care if you want to. It’s worth bearing in mind that you may have to change the start date for your care if your admission date changes.
For more information on arranging your own care, read our dedicated guide: