Children like to choose whether they will be alone. In hospitals I saw them forced to be alone and forced to be with others.
In the 1930s the Royal Children’s Hospital kept children in long wards, preferably on open-air balconies. My cousin John had a terrific time with all his pals in hospital, and kept up with some of them for a long time afterwards. We visited him and saw the fun he had.
My grandson Patrick was in a Scottish ward of about fourteen children, and while he was really sick, took no notice of them, but when he was convalescing he had such fun with them he did not want to go home. It was a noisy ward because parents were welcome to visit for long periods. (Named the Royal Children’s Hospital but called The Sick Kids.)
When I was at the Royal Children’s Hospital in the 1970s children were usually in wards of about six children, well spaced, with curtains to draw when needed. They had less to do with each other, it seemed, than in earlier years.
Now in hospitals there is the bugbear of infections and sometimes children are in single rooms. This may not matter when hospital stays are so much shorter, but I wonder at the loneliness and desperation some children may feel when alone in their rooms – more visiting and lots of TV may not make up for it.
It must cost a lot more in cleaning – sometimes a crucial matter.
When I was in hospital as a mother or because of accidents, 1943-1981, I always liked best a ward of 4 beds. You could always choose whether to talk or to keep to yourself, and the chatter helped you to think of happy things.
When I read today of mental health wards in which women are menaced by men in the same ward, that seems to me a retrograde step from the old system of single-gender wards. Apparently it is because of cost – no bed is allowed to be vacant.
But the cost in extra distress to the women means more time in hospital.
In other hospitals, there may be single-bed rooms that are accompanied by their own bathrooms. I would not like that