What to pack for a hospital stay

A stay in hospital can often be stressful and overwhelming even without the added burden of trying to remember what to take - and hoping you don't forget something important.

Whether you're someone with an underlying condition which means you're often visiting a ward, or you're going to hospital unexpectedly, it's a good idea to know what to pack.

Dr Deborah Lee, of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, has put together a helpful guide so you know you've checked off the right things.

"Patients in hospital frequently have to be moved from one ward to another, and often in a hurry," she says. "When this happens, all your things will need to be moved with you, so you need to be packed up and transported quickly and easily. The key is to have as few belongings as possible.

"When deciding what to take into hospital you need to be very selective. Only take things with you that you really need."

Dr Lee explains some conditions may require a hospital visit at short notice, so it's better to be prepared.

"Some medical conditions can occur very suddenly, without warning. You could suddenly become drowsy, unable to communicate, or unconscious," she says.

"You may suffer from episodes of confusion, and when this happens, you cannot think clearly.

"You may suffer from severe, acute allergic reactions - for example, a severe nut allergy. If you suddenly have life-threatening symptoms, such as facial/tongue swelling, wheezing and breathlessness, you will not be in a fit state to pack a bag."

The necessities

"When deciding what to take into hospital you need to be very selective. Only take things with you that you really need," says Dr Lee.

Your checklist should include:

  • Medication (and your repeat prescription list).
  • Personal care items including toiletries and sanitary items.
  • Your toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Your glasses or contact lenses.
  • Contact details of your next of kin.
  • Pyjamas, socks and other clothing, including several changes of underwear.
  • Sleep mask and earplugs.
  • Mobile phone and charger.
  • Snacks and change for the vending machine.

Medication

All your current medication will need to be packed, Dr Lee says.

This includes inhalers, your contraceptive pill and any natural or herbal remedies you use.

You'll also need a list of your current medications and repeat prescriptions, a written list of any allergies and any medical-alert ID bracelets [or similar].

"The repeat prescription list from your GP surgery is helpful as it lists all the drugs you are taking, formulations, doses, and timings," Dr Lee adds.

Personal care

Whilst you're in hospital, you'll still want to look after your personal hygiene so that means packing toiletries and any other essentials.

This should include little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash as well as a sponge or flannel.

It's a good idea to pack moisturiser, a hairbrush or comb, a nail file and box of tissues.

Here’s a list of other essential items:

  • Deodorant.
  • Tampons, sanitary pads and incontinence pads if needed.
  • Your glasses or contact lenses.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Denture supplies or mouthguard if needed.

You should also remove nail polish before going into hospital, Dr Lee adds. But if you don't have time you could take nail polish remover with you.

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Pyjamas and other clothing

You're going to want to be comfortable while in hospital so it's a good idea to take a set of pyjamas that are easy to get on and off, Dr Lee says. A second spare pair is also a good idea, plus slippers or socks so your feet don't get cold.

Hospitals are often bright and noisy places, so you may want to pack a sleep mask and earplugs so you can get a good night's rest.

And don't forget to pack several changes of underwear and a plastic bag to put your dirty ones in.

Do remember that hospitals are keen to get people out of bed and sitting up and dressed as soon as possible. This has been driven by the hugely successful 'End PJ Paralysis' campaign, which highlighted how quickly older people in particular could lose muscle strength and mass when confined to bed. So if you're going to be in hospital for more than a couple of days, you'll need more than one set of daytime clothes.

Other things to remember

"It's a good idea to leave your purse behind when you go into hospital. Instead take one credit/debit card in a small purse, for any transactions - for example, if you choose to pay for the TV by your bed," Dr Lee says.

"Take a handful of change for the vending machines or hospital shop. You could take a few snacks - things that are non-perishable which you can keep by the bedside if you get peckish."

You'll also need your mobile phone charger so you can stay in contact with friends and family during your stay.

Planning for a baby

If you're going into hospital to have a baby you'll need some extra bits, Dr Lee says.

Here's her list of things to remember if you'r going on to a maternity ward:

  • Baby bag - containing newborn nappies, baby wipes, baby grows/sleepsuits, cardigans, bibs, muslins, small baby blanket.
  • Breast pads.
  • Nursing bras.
  • Maximum-strength sanitary towels.
  • Baby car seat - you can't take your baby home without a suitable car seat which meets European safety standards and is correctly fitted.
  • Camera - and the charger.

Packing for someone else

If a hospital visit is unplanned, it's likely that the patient will need their bag packed for them.

"If you need to pack for someone else in a hurry, focus on the personal care and toiletry items listed above," Dr Lee says.

"This especially includes things like the toothbrush and some basic nightwear. The mobile phone, the charger and some small change are also handy.

"If you know the details of the person's GP, bring those along. The staff will be able to contact the GP surgery and find out about medication and allergies as is needed."

Nice-to-haves

The above lists are things that should be remembered when packing a hospital bag, but there are a few other things that are nice to have but not essential.

This includes items to save you from boredom during your stay, such as magazines, books, Kindles, laptops and headphones for listening to music.

You may also want a pen and notepad, extra drinks and snacks, and your own pillow.

Visiting with COVID-19

A number of hospital visits at the moment are due to coronavirus, so it's important to know if you need special items.

"The above advice about packing for the hospital in an emergency applies," Dr Lee explains.

"The hospital will provide all the PPE required. However, remember, you will not be allowed any visitors. If you have a mobile phone, an iPad or laptop, do take it, with the charger, as this may be your only means of communication.

"If you are well enough, check your hospital website for information for people being admitted, before you attend."

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