Hospital visiting times should be extended so that the relatives of patients can have a greater involvement in their care, the head of the Royal College of Nursing has said.
Dr Peter Carter yesterday sought to clarify his earlier comments on the issue after he was criticised for appearing to suggest that relatives of elderly patients should share responsibility for looking after them in hospital.
"If you have a 24-bed ward and have got five nurses and everybody is having lunch at the same time and half the patients need feeding, it becomes a bit difficult to get it all done," he told The Sunday Times.
"If someone is coming in and sitting with their loved one, they are going to have the focused, dedicated time ... Somehow we have sleepwalked, in some parts of society, into assuming this is someone else's responsibility."
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, described Dr Carter's suggestions as "scandalous".
Clarifying his comments yesterday, Dr Carter said that relatives should not be forced to carry out any tasks in nursing care, but insisted that there are "real benefits" for patients if their family is involved.
"We would never suggest that relatives perform tasks that nurses are trained and paid to do, or that they should be compelled to carry out any task," he said.
"What we would like to see is flexibi- lity to allow relatives to help to make patients comfortable, such as extending visiting times."