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Xyrichis A, Wynne J, Mackrill J, Rafferty AM. Noise pollution in hospitals. BMJ.. 2018; 363

Stop the noise

12 September 2019
3 min read
Volume 28 · Issue 16

The NHS provides lifesaving treatment, but noise in hospitals could be detrimental to patients' sleep and rest and their overall wellbeing. Inpatient surveys have shown a trend for worsening scores when it comes to being disturbed by noise (Raleigh et al, 2015). Noise in hospitals is inevitable to some extent, but in many situations could be reduced to allow the peace and quiet that patients desire. One factor is the rising use of technology to aid diagnosis and treatment—along with the benefits can come a good deal of noise pollution, from the devices themselves and the human activity associated with them. Excessive noise has undesirable effects on patients such as annoyance, impaired communication, irritation, fatigue and reduced quality of life (Xyrichis et al, 2018).

This commentary was prompted by a relative's account of the detrimental effects of noise he had endured as a patient at a hospital. One late evening my relative was admitted to a receiving unit for assessment and immediate treatment before being transferred to another ward. He recounted that, as he waited for a medical decision about the next level of care, he became acutely aware of the noise emanating from various sources; some faint, others intolerably annoying and distracting. Following assessment and treatment, he waited for the results of further medical tests and a final decision about his transfer to another ward. He decided it would be wise to rest as it was well into the night. As he settled, he was woken again by a loud noise from slamming doors and soon this was accompanied by another noise from the wheels of an approaching electronic sphygmomanometer. The nurse attached him to the machine, which triggered another noise when it was activated. He recollected that he was glad when this procedure was over and decided to get some sleep. As soon as he closed his eyes, he was woken again by the sound of the alarm set off by the intravenous (IV) equipment connected to him. The drip alarm went on and on for some time until a nurse intervened to stop it to replace the empty IV fluid bag. Then, he said, there were echoes of patients' buzzers drowning the ward with incessant noise.

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