Let Dogs Onto Hospital Wards, Say The Royal College of Nursing

Wednesday 21st June 2017

The Royal College of Nursing has suggested that trained animals, including dogs should be allowed onto hospital wards and could even accompany patients into operating theatres in order to help patients and aid recovery. The RCN is currently working on advice for nurses and hospitals to encourage more animals visiting patients, and avoid the widespread ban of animals in medical workplaces.

This comes in the wake of a recent study by the RCN of 750 nurses, over three-fifths of which said that they believed animals helped recovery, with four-fifths believing that animals helped patients be more physically active. Previous surveys undertaken by the RCN have also said that nine out of ten claimed animals could improve the health of patients with depression and other mental health issues, and four fifths think animals improve communication for people with autism.

There are quite a few anecdotal stories that add to the statistics too, including cases where a young patient who needed to undergo a major life-saving operation was too scare to do so until a therapy dog came with her to the anaesthetic room and stayed with her until after the operation was completed. Royal College of Nurses professional lead Amanda Cheesley credited this gesture with saving her life, as it allowed the medical staff to undertake the operation.

Other ways in which animals helped including helping people who have difficulty walking with physiotherapy and mobility, as well as improving their balance and ability to walk, as well as distracting a patient from an unpleasant procedure such as an injection if a child is afraid of needles.

There are a number of challenges to having animals in hospitals, which has added to the general assumption that they are not allowed in clinics and hospitals and what Ms Cheesley has called the “myths around the dangers” of animals being around wards, and is currently drafting advice on ways to mitigate or prevent the issue, what the RCN is noting is the first national protocol of its kind

The first, and most prevalent is that animals could spread disease and infections, a problem that can be mitigated in various ways, either by having specific scheduled appointments so the animal does not travel from one room or patient to another, by wiping the paws and disinfecting them in the same way nurses clean their hands. An animal’s vaccinations would also need to be up to date.

Highly trained animals are used in other aspects of civic society, from social care, assisting people with disabilities and the police. The dogs involved are highly trained and so it stands to reason that it is certainly possible to have similarly highly trained dogs who assist while a patient passes through the health care system. While it may initially seem like a dubious initiative, the endorsement of nurses gives gravity to the plans, and if further studies can statistically prove the benefit of an initiative, we could see dogs helping patients sooner rather than later.

The protocol will be released later this year.