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Doctors, nurses and hospital staff work hard to give safe, high-quality health care to everyone in New Zealand. For example, hospitals have programmes to make surgery safer, and prevent falls, infections and giving people the wrong medicine.

There are also things you and your family/whānau can do to help you stay safe in hospital.

Good communication

  • Good communication is important! Ask questions if you are not clear about anything or why something is being done.Nurses talking to patient in hospital bed
  • Doctors, nurses and other health care workers who come into your room should introduce themselves and explain why they are there. If they don’t, you can ask them.
  • When you are going home from hospital (being discharged), make sure you know what you can and cannot do at home, such as exercises, and what medicines to take and when. Find out when your next appointment is (if you have one), where it will be and if anyone will come and visit you at home.

Reduce the risk of infection

  • Infections can make your hospital stay longer, or even mean coming back to hospital after you leave. To help keep infection away:
    • wash your hands, and ask your family/whānau and visitors to wash theirs
    • ask friends and family/whānau who have colds, coughs or other illnesses that can be passed on not to visit you until they are betterSurgical staff preparing theatre instruments for operation
    • consider having a 'flu shot' – it’s the best way to protect against the unpleasant effects of influenza, which include headaches, fever, aches and pains. Ask your doctor or nurse about getting a flu shot. Getting the flu is the last thing you want – particularly if you are ill already!
  • Before you have your operation:
    • tell your doctor and nurse about any recent health problems you have had or that you have at the moment
    • don’t shave where you will have surgery. If this is needed, a nurse will do it for you using clippers.
  • After you have had surgery, before you go home, make sure you:
    • understand how to care for your wound. For example, can you have a shower and get it wet? When will the stitches come out? How long before you can start lifting things? How much exercise can you do and when should you do it?Hand cleaning gel
    • get the name and know how to get hold of someone to call if you are worried about your wound or it starts to get sore and red. Always clean your hands before and after caring for your wound.

Use medicines safely

  • When you go into hospital, bring your medicines or information about what you are taking, or ask a family/whānau member to bring this in for you. Doctors, nurses and pharmacists need to know what medicines you are taking to help them talk with you about your care and avoid errors.
  • Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any allergies or have had reactions to medicines or foods before.
  • When you go home from hospital, if you are told to take one of your medicines in a different way from before, check with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist why there has been a change.
  • Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist:Hand pouring medicines onto benchtop
    • What is the medicine for?
    • What is its name?
    • How and when do I take it?
    • How long do I need to take it for?
    • What could happen if I stop taking it?
    • What are the side effects? What should I do if I get these?
  • Remember, your medicines include:
    • prescription medicines (medicines your doctor has written you a script for)
    • over-the-counter medicines (medicines you can buy at the supermarket or chemist)Mother visiting son in hospital
    • vitamins and minerals
    • herbal and homeopathic remedies
    • traditional medicines.

Avoid falls

  • If you fall in hospital you could be hurt and need to stay longer. Most falls happen when people are getting in or out of bed or their bedside chair, or going to the toilet.
  • It’s OK to ask for help if you need it.
  • Doing these things will help keep you from losing your balance or falling over:
    • Keep important things within reach, including your call button.
    • Take your time when you get up. If you feel dizzy, weak or light-headed, ask for help – don’t get up by yourself.
    • If you need help getting to the bathroom or toilet, ask for it, and use the bell to ask for help if you don’t feel well, or when you are ready to go back.
    • Take extra care on wet or slippery floors.
    • Watch out for any clutter or obstacles in your way and ask for them to be moved.Patient and visitor preparing to go home from hospital
    • Use the handrails in the bathroom and hallway.
    • Don’t use wobbly items like your IV pole, tray table or wheelchair to hold on to.
    • Use your glasses or hearing aids if you need them.
    • Use your walking aid in the way you have been shown.
    • Wear well-fitting shoes or non-skid slippers every time you get up. Ask for help to put them on if you need it.
    • Make sure your clothing isn’t so long or loose that it might trip you.
    • At night, turn on the light before you get out of bed and when you are in the toilet.

More information about reducing harm from falls is here.

What you can do

Graphics showing ways to keep yourself safe in hospital

There are some ways you can help yourself to stay safe in hospital.

  • Talk with your doctor and nurse and tell them what you know about your illness or injury.
  • Ask questions to help you understand your treatment – why you are having it, the choices, what will happen and the risks and benefits.
  • Clean your hands often to help stop infection, and ask your visitors to clean their hands.
  • Keep a list of and learn the names of the medicines you are taking, the reasons you are taking them and when and how to take them. 
  • Ask for the results of any tests you have and what happens next. 
  • Get to know your ward and make sure the call bell is always within easy reach.
  • Before leaving hospital, ask what you and your family/whanau need to do at home.