Hospital life

What’s life like on a ward? It’s hard to imagine if you haven’t stayed on one before. It can take a while to get used to sharing your space and spending time in a clinical environment, but most people say that dealing with being bored is the worst bit! There are plenty of ways to keep entertained and to get something positive out of the experience, even if you have to stay there for a while.

Where will I be treated?

It depends on things like your age and where you live, but it’s something you’ll definitely need to speak about with your consultant or clinical nurse specialist. If you’re aged between 16 and 18, your treatment should be at a Principal Treatment Centre (PTC) for young people. These are hospitals specialising in treating teenage and young adult cancer. You may also be treated in a PTC if you are 19 or over but it depends on your diagnosis.

There is an NHS checklist you can use which helps you think through what is important for you. It also gives you the chance to print a list of things to discuss with your consultant or nurse specialist.

Will I have to stay in hospital?

It depends on your treatment. Some young people need to stay in hospital for long stretches of time. Alternatively, it may be possible for you to receive some or all of your care in a day care unit, without having to stay in hospital overnight. 

Many hospitals offer accommodation to people who live very far away but can have day care treatment - your team will be able to explain this to you in more detail. You will still have access to the same team and services. Many teenage and young adult (TYA) day care units have the same facilities as TYA inpatient wards. 

What’s the ward like?

Cancer wards can look challenging in the beginning. Remember though that the most important things can be hard to see at first – like the dedicated professionals who will be there by your side, or the chance to form friendships that can provide a whole new layer of support.

Faces will become friendly and familiar, the procedures will become routine and you’ll soon feel much more at home in your surroundings.  Teenage Cancer Trust has wards for young people in hospitals around the UK. 

What are the facilities like?

Generally wards are better than they once were, thanks to NHS recommendations specifically for young cancer patients. Of course, they still vary widely depending on where you are.

Some have a day room where you can watch TV and chat to others, while a kitchen may offer opportunities to socialise and make yourself a drink or snack. There may also be rooms available to have quiet time by yourself or do something creative. Some wards for children and young people even offer areas where you can use computers, play video games or watch DVDs.

What about my privacy?

You should be able to have quiet time by yourself or with your family and friends. At the same time, some of the most valuable support comes from other people in a similar boat. So although you’ll need privacy sometimes, try not to cut yourself off from those around you; often people end up finding that being in the company of others really helps them get through. 

Will anyone be allowed to stay with me?

If you’re treated on a children’s ward, most will have space for one person to stay while you’re having treatment and some may also have rooms for other close family members.

If you’re treated on a young person’s ward, you may be able to have one person stay overnight on your ward. While this may be less available on an adult ward, each hospital is different so check with your care team. 

What if I don’t like where I’m being treated?

It’s never easy to adjust to new and unfamiliar surroundings. If you’ve had a negative experience, don’t be afraid to talk to a member of your care team. They could help give you a clearer picture of what’s going on. Sharing your thoughts and worries with the professionals looking after you could help put your mind at ease.
For any persistent problems, you may find it helpful to get in touch with your local PALS. It makes sure the NHS listens to patients, their relatives and friends, and resolves concerns as quickly as possible. 

Where next?

Updated March 2018, next review due 2019.