I attended a public lecture in Dublin last night as part of the Hospice friendly Hospitals (HfH) programme. The subject matter was ‘Design and Dignity’ the case for renewing our hospitals. The Irish Hospice Foundation has launched a unique national programme to mainstream hospice principles in all areas of hospital practice relating to care for the dying and bereaved. The lecture while enlightening, succeeded in emphasising the major deficiencies that exist in Irish hospitals but it was good to hear that attitudes are changing.
Professor Roger Ulrich, Director of Centre for Health Systems and Design in Texas, delivered a long lecture outlining the evidence based design principles that should be incorporated into all future hospital developments. Steps such as improving visibility of patients, providing single bed rooms, reducing noise levels, and introducing nature and art to the hospital environment, have all been shown to reduce stress for the patient. This is all very laudable stuff but it seemed a million miles away from the reality of the Irish Health Service where patients consider themselves lucky to even get a hospital bed and where cross-infection is a major problem due to overcrowding. Janette Byrne, spokesperson for ‘Patients Together‘ took to the floor and told the audience that what Prof Ulrich was talking about was “just a dream for Irish patients.” Janette, who is herself recovering from cancer, stated “I live more in fear of the Health Service than I do of my cancer” and for me, that really said it all last night.
We have a long way to go to make our hospitals more user friendly in this country. Irish hospitals are a very long way off meeting the needs of patients, families and staff in relation to dying, death and bereavement. The HfH programme aims to change the culture of care in our hospitals so that people can die with dignity. This programme is not about blaming and shaming, it is a challenge to us all to ensure that a better service will be provided. The chairman of the night, Gabriel Byrne, challenged us all to “imagine” a future where our hospitals would provide dignity in dying, and to “have hope.”