Should hospitals provide all patients with single rooms?

hospital ward

The British Medical Journal recently published a ‘Head to Head’ debate between Prof Hugh Pennington and Dr Chris Isles addressing the question of: “Should hospitals provide all patients with single rooms?”

Prof Pennington made the case for 100% single rooms (see Table below), which provide infection control benefits; increased privacy, dignity and confidentiality; less noise results in sleep; intimate contact with families is easier; patients have more control over their immediate environment at a time when they have little control over what happens to them; there is better access for bed-side treatment; and bed management is improved, with less bed-blocking due to gender or infectious patients, resulting in fewer patient transfers.

Dr Isles countered with the case for a mixture of single rooms and bays (see Table below). His argument goes that ‘one room does not fit all’; patients crave company at what can be a very lonely time; patients in single rooms have less contact with healthcare workers, and patients will look out for each other when something goes wrong; and there is surprisingly poor evidence that increasing the proportion of single rooms reduces healthcare-associated infection.

Table: comparing the relative benefits of single rooms and multi-occupancy bays.single rooms bays

It’s interesting to note the variety in national approaches taken to advice on whether hospitals should provide single rooms for all patients. The USA and, more recently, Scotland recommend 100% single rooms, whereas England recommends 50% single rooms for newly built hospitals. There are also some ‘halfway house’ options to consider in terms of temporary or semi-permanent conversion of bays into single rooms, which may go some way to maximising the benefits of single rooms and bays.

If I had to spend time as a hospital inpatient, I’d want a single room. I appreciate that some would find social benefits from being accommodated in a four or six bed bay, but I’d like my own privacy please. And then there’s the risk of infection – healthcare workers are significantly more likely to perform hand hygiene before attending to a patient in a single room than in a bay. Plus, overall infection rates were lower in a unit composed of single rooms compared with a unit composed of a mixture of single rooms and bay. I know that I’d receive less visits from healthcare workers, and that this carries risks, but I’d still prefer a single room thank-you very much!

Article citation: Pennington H, Isles C. Should hospitals provide all patients with single rooms? BMJ 2013;347:f5695.

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Photo credit: Ward at the Royal Free Hospital, c.1908; Royal Free Archive Centre.