Roughly 11 per cent of the population are admitted to hospital for a period longer than 24 hours a year. This figure may seem rather high but it also includes the many babies born in hospital and the babies who need postnatal treatment. The reasons for the latter might be to carry out corrective surgery for a congenital deformity, to observe a baby because of a suspected disorder, or to treat an illness. Approximately 70 per cent of male babies and 65 per cent of female babies under the age of one year have hospital treatment. In the older age range the group that is least likely to be admitted to hospital is made up of people aged between 15 and 44 years. Within one year approximately five per cent of males and 10 per cent of females will go to hospital. The section of the older population most at risk of needing hospitalization comprimises males aged between 46 and 64 years, among whom about 12 per cent a year will receive treatment, most often for coronary disorders. In the last 10 years the average duration of a stay in hospital has fallen from roughly 17 days to 13 days. The cause for this lies partly in a changing pattern of reasons for admission to hospital. For example, sterilizations have increased greatly in number but require only a relatively short stay in hospital.
For many people the idea of a stay in hospital, even for a minor operation, is one that fills them with a certain amount of apprehension. On the one hand, they may worry that their ailment is more serious than it actually is, influenced, perhaps, by the impressive array of medical equipment and expertise on display. On the other hand, they may find the idea of being surrounded by other sick people distasteful – although, in fact, the majority of admissions with whom the patient is likely to come into contact will be there for equally routine operations.
Hospital staff are trained to put a patient at his or her ease, and answer any questions that the patient may have about the course of treatment. Moreover, the routine of hospitalization has in itself a soothing effect on the worries of most patients. A typical day in hospital will start with the patient being woken up fairly early, at about 7 a.m., so that the nursing staff can get on with giving breakfast, washing the patients and changing dressings before the ward doctor makes his rounds. Depending on what instructions the doctor has given for individual patients, the rest of the morning is spent on administering medicines and, for example, taking blood samples for analysis. Lunch is usually served at midday, with the afternoon following a similar pattern to the morning, unless the patient is being prepared for surgery. The evening is generally set aside for visiting hours.
However, many hospitals are now adopting, within the constrictions that must necessarily apply to running a large organization, a more flexible attitude to both visiting hours and the wishes of the patient. So what of the hospital of the future? If present trends continue, many more patients will be looked after on a day – care basis, and more hospital resources will be devoted to intensive care units and long-stay cases. And, as with every aspect of society, machines and computers will play an ever more prominent role. Patients need not worry, however, that increased mechanization will somehow dehumanize hospitals -hospitals have never been more self-critical or aware of the service that they need to give to society.