Hospital wards are too noisy and the problem is getting worse, a new study found.
Noise in intense care units caring for the most poorly patients have been measured at levels of over 100dB, the equivalent of loud music through headphones.
And other areas of hospitals are plagued by constant din that are making patients unwell and stressing out staff.
NHS staff report too much noise hinders communication which causes annoyance, irritation and fatigue impacting the quality and safety of healthcare.
It can also disrupts a patients’ rest, healing and recovery because noise has been linked to the development of ICU psychosis, hospitalisation-induced stress, increased pain sensitivity, high blood pressure and poor mental health.
Patients exposed to hospital noise also were left feeling trapped and stressed after staying for several nights.
This led to requests for premature discharge from hospital which comes with a heightened risk of trauma and re-admission.
Researchers from King’s College London and the University of the Arts London (UAL) argue noise pollution is a worsening problem, with levels regularly exceeding international recommendations.
Published in the British Medical Journal, the research suggests patients and families need clear information about likely noise levels during admissions so they are better prepared in advance, and can consider bringing headphones.
Education for staff is also needed to encourage a culture that considers noise reduction an integral part of safe high quality healthcare.
Lead author Senior Lecturer Dr Andreas Xyrichis at King’s College said: “Even in intensive care units, which cater for the most vulnerable patients, noise levels over 100dB have been measured, the equivalent of loud music through headphones,.
“We know hospital noise has disruptive consequences for sleep – machine sounds in particular have a greater negative effect on arousal than human voices. Post-hospitalisation recovery is also compromised.
“For example, coronary care patients treated during noisy periods were found to have a higher incidence of rehospitalisation compared to those treated during quieter periods.”
“Measures to tackle this problem have included ear plugs, noise warning systems, acoustic treatment panels, educational initiatives and noise reduction protocols, which have provided some benefit.
“However, so far, patients have been seen as passive recipients of hospital noise rather than active participants in its creation. It is essential that future solutions should have greater patient participation as a key feature.
“Guides about potential ward sounds could also enhance patients’ understanding of their surroundings and increase relaxation.
“Sound masking – the addition of background, broadband sound optimised for particular environments to reduce noise-induced disturbance – has also been used widely in open-plan offices for many years and has recently shown promise for improving sleep in hospitals.”
By Adela Whittingham