IT is now 17 years since the -R. Ministry of Health made its first move in the campaign to allow unrestricted visiting of children in hospital by their parents or guardians. However, as is evidenced by a communication issued by the Ministry a few weeks ago, the battle is
by no means won.
Mothers have always been instinctively aware of the misery suffered by any small child suddenly thrust into a terrifyingly strange and perhaps painful environment from which .his mother is inexplicably absent But it is only within living memory that the study of child psychology has become sufficiently advanced for the medical world to acknowledge the great and sometimes permanent damage which may be done to a child's personality in such eircumstances.
Before 1949, visits to children's wards were usually severely restricted and in some cases absolutely forbidden. One excuse given for this was the risk of cross-infection, now recognised to be comparatively slight.
Another though perhaps unexpressed reason was of course, the hospital authorities' fear that anything approaching unrestricted visiting would greatly inconvenience the work of the medical staff, if not actually disrupt the entire routine of the wards.
Some weight was given to the latter view by the tears and tantrums which naturally followed any brief glimpse of his parents which the child was allowed "Just imagine having that all day!" was the attitude of most ward sisters.
HOWEVER SOME of those in authority were willing to try out the suggestion put forward by the Ministry in 1949 that parents and guardians should be allowed to visit children "with reasonable frequency" and concessions were made in many hospitals.
In 1956 the Ministry suggested that daily visiting should be invariably permitted.
In 1959 the Platt Committee on the Welfare of Children in Hospital issued its report recommending unrestricted visiting to children's wards by parents. Copies of the report were circulated to hospitals by the Ministry, advising the implementation of its recommendations
In 1964 a survey was undertaken to determine how far the hospitals were complying with the Ministry's request. Last November the Minister was asked in the House of Commons about the progress which had been made.
He told the House. that, according to the Ministry's latest information, out of 878 hospitals with children's wards under consultant paediatricians in England and Wales, 694 had adopted a pattern of unrestricted visiting and a further 65 had very generous visiting hours.
These figures may be slightly misleading, however, since the term "unrestricted visiting" appears to have been understood by some hospital authorities to mean "daily visiting".
The Ministry's latest communication to hospitals on the subject was dated March 10. It emphasised that its advice in the past had not been "intended to give discretion to restrict visiting as a routine in any ward".
It condemns, for example, "a general rule restricting the visiting of child patients immediately prior to or after tonsillectomy or any other operation, or on the day following an operation, or of children who have infectious diseases." and reiterates that such rules are without medical justification.
Any decision not to permit the visiting of a particular child on a particular occasion is to be made only by the consultant in charge.
The importance of the Platt Committee's advice on the admission of mothers with children is also stressed. "The presence of the mother, particularly for children under the age of 5, during the first few days in hospital often provides an added sense of security to the child. The mother may also give valuable help in caring for the child."
Hospital authorities have been requested to return details of their policy in regard to visiting of children's wards by the end of April. There is to be a second review of the situation by the end of October.
Contrary to the expectation of the more conservative, 'hospitals which do allow unrestricted visiting have found that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. In the first place, the children are happier and so respond more quickly to treatment and are more co-operative.
At the present time our hospitals are suffering from a chronic shortage of nursing staff. The mothers who can afford to spend time with their sick children can be of great assistance to the nurses, feeding and washing the children and keeping them amused.
Many mothers, of course, simply cannot leave other small children in the family in order to spend time with the one in hospital, but those who are able to make arrangements to visit the ward frequently will always make time to have a word with the children who have no visitors.
Recently my daughter of 2-1 had to have an ear operation. We had very little time to prepare her for her admission and in any case she was in too much pain to be reasonable. Dreading the scene which I thought inevitable, I took her to the ward.
Smiling a welcome, sister suggested that I might like to undress her and put her to bed myself. I was allowed to stay for her pre-operative medication. When I left she was drowsily clinging to her favourite soft toy.
I had been told when to return, and I was sitting beside her cot when she came round from the anaesthetic. I was able to stay with her all day long. was given meals and even offered a bed in a side ward for the night.
There were four cots in her room. Whichever mother was there helped colour in pictures, fetched drinks of water, read stories and sang nursery rhymes for all the small patients. There were no screams or tantrums when we left—the children knew that we meant it when we said: "Back soon."
My daughter remembers her stay in hospital as a happy time. This in itself is a small tribute to the concern of the Ministry and the sincere efforts of most of our hospital staffs.
The Patients' Association, a voluntary organisation, will be glad to help any parents who encounter an unreasonable attitude about the visiting of children's wards. The Association tell me that the Ministry has been most helpful in the past when approached about individual cases.
It must be understood, however, that hospital authorities cannot be compelled to permit unrestricted visiting. Ultimately it is the hospital authority which is responsible for the patient's safety, and so visiting regulations must be left within the authority's discretion.
Let us hope that the efforts of the Ministry, coupled with the pressure of public opinion, will ensure that for every child patient the visit to hospital is made as happy an experience as is humanly possible.
Maureen Vincent MR. MALCOLM MUGGERIDGE is, by any account, a complex character. His interest in matters religious is fairly well known, though far less known is the fact that Mr. Muggeridge is a close friend of Cardinal Heenan.
He has a great admiration of the Cardinal ; a few months ago he spoke of this to a young B.B.C. producer, Kevin Billington, who had just completed a programme with Malcolm Muggerdigc in India.
As a result of this talk the B.B.C. is to screen next Thursday a "film conversation" between the Cardinal and Mr. Muggeridge with Mr. Billington as producer. It will last 50 minutes, and promises to be a most revealing close-up of The English Cardinal.
Television, of course, is at its best in this type of film profile. Over the years, two fairly distinct approaches have been developed ... the blunt type of interrogation used by John Freeman in the Face to Face series, and Mr. Muggeridge's own, gentler conversation pieces in which the subject is prompted into thinking aloud about himself and the way in which his character and personality have been moulded.
The programme on Cardinal Heenan is of the latter type. It is a study of the Cardinal as a man rather than a probe into his views on current church policy.
Mr. Billington, when I spoke to him, made the distinction that this programme is "a conversation, rather than an interview". lb get the effect over, most of it has been filmed outside the confining limits of a studio.
In the weeks during which the thousands of feet of film were shot, the Cardinal and Mr. Muggeridge were in the English College, outside the Vatican, in the Pope's garden, and in the Cardinal's Westminister home.
I asked Mr. Billington how the Cardinal had reacted to the rather demanding process of being the subject of a film. "He was terribly patient," he said. "There were times when he probably found it a bit difficult to understand our reasons fdr doing things the way we did but the whole thing went off very well.
"It helped, of course, that the Cardinal and Malcolm got on so well together."
I imagine Mr. Billington contributed quite a lot to this himself. He is an old hand at the production end of interviews for television, having worked both on the Tonight series and on Wicker's World.
THE WAY THINGS are going on television these days. with the ridiculous battle for "balance", one must assume that having had a profile of the English Cardinal there will be
a rush to get a similar programme on the Anglican Archbishop.
The pattern is already set, for we have had an instance in the past week where a programme had been scheduled on The Vatican Millions and some were saying that this would be all right so long as a similar piece was done on the wealth of the Church of England. The mind boggles at just where this sort of thing will end. First balanced politics; next balanced religion. A programme on Australia, one supposes, would have to be followed by one on Canada, New Zealand, Fiji etc., etc., or there would be wholesale quittings from the Commonwealth.
Next we will have the fan club of Mr. Adam Faith de manding equal time with the fan club of Mr. Tom Jones; jazz addicts will protest to Parliament because Old-Time Dancing gets an extra ten minutes a weelc. And what a delightful row could develop between the supporters of the various soccer clubs.
Who would want to be Hugh Greene or Lord Hill?