In an emergency, always call triple zero (000). It’s a free call from any phone, mobile or phone box.

For other urgent medical issues, go to an Emergency Department.

Our Emergency Departments are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week:

Carers guide to hospital

The Emergency Department

When you enter the Emergency Department, also called the ‘ED’, a nurse will assess the patient and decide how urgent their medical needs are.

This is called the ‘triage process’ and the sickest people will always be seen first.  If you have any concerns in the ED, or need an interpreter, please talk to the Triage Nurse. You can also find information about interpreter services on our website.

Find out more about coming to hospital.

Tips for carers:

  • Let the Triage Nurse know that you are a carer, as you may be able to provide the them with valuable information, such as medical history, medications, behavioural issues, and let them know if there are things which will help the patient to feel less anxious, more comfortable and settled.
  • If the person you are caring for has dementia and you have previously completed a TOP 5 strategy form, you can provide this to the nursing staff who will place a copy on the patient’s medical record.
  • It is important to bring along all the medications that the person you care for is currently taking.  It is useful to have a current list of medications completed by your GP or Pharmacist.
  • If you need to attend the Emergency Department for your own health concerns, let the triage nurse know if the person you care for has medical conditions or behavioural issues which might be a concern. 
  • If you have any concerns about the care or treatment provided in the Emergency Department you can ask to speak to the Nursing Unit Manager (NUM).
  • If you are worried that the patient’s health is getting worse with the care and treatment being offered, you can ask for the ‘REACH’ phone number and a phone to use. 

The REACH number will connect you with a different clinical team to review the patient’s care and treatment.   REACH stands for Recognise-Engage-Act-Call-Help is on its way.

On the Ward

If you are caring for someone who is admitted to a hospital ward, introduce yourself as the patient’s carer, to the nursing and medical staff.

We encourage you to ask questions about the patient’s care.  If a patient requires a high level of care and you are available to provide some support, please advise the nursing staff.  In special circumstances, carers may be encouraged to stay overnight in hospital with the patient.  

It is also important for carers to have input into care planning to ensure that all of the patient’s care needs are considered.  Make sure that you ask to be included in decisions about the patient’s care.

Tips for carers:

  • Nursing staff discuss each patient’s care needs and plans at the end of shift ‘handover meeting’ with the in-coming staff.  These occur around 07:00, 14:30, 21:30 daily.
  • Doctors discuss changes to care plans with the nursing staff when they do their hospital rounds.
  • There are regular Multi-disciplinary Discharge Planning Meetings to discuss care plans. These meetings include many staff, such as a Discharge Planner, Doctor, Nurse, Speech Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, and Social Worker.  At these meetings, staff might discuss the ‘Transfer of Care Plan’, also sometimes called the Discharge Plan, which sets out all of the supports required for a successful transfer back to home, hospice or aged care facility.

Things to ask staff:

  • How long is the patient is expected to be in hospital? 
  • Do staff have any questions about the patient’s behaviour?
  • Do staff need information to assist with providing care to the patient?

Things to tell staff:

  • If you notice the patient is deteriorating
  • If there is something that would help them to provide more personalised care
  • If you feel that the patient would benefit from you remaining at their bedside • If you are concerned about care arrangements when the patient leaves hospital.

Please also advise the Discharge Planner if the patient is receiving services at home, so the necessary arrangements can be made to notify those services when planning for discharge.  

There are a number of programs which provide short term packages of care to older people to assist in their transition from hospital to home. 

Please ask the nursing staff, discharge planner, or a social worker if the person you care for is eligible for a package.

Who is who in the hospital?

There are a range of health professionals who may be involved in the care and treatment of a patient.  This will depend on the size of the hospital, the patient’s medical condition, and whether they are in the hospital as an inpatient, or in the community as an outpatient. 

Here is a brief description of the role of each health professional that you may meet in the hospital.

Medical Staff – Doctors

As a carer you may or may not see the admitting Doctor, usually a ‘specialist’, but you may see the ‘Registrar’, a specialist in training, or a ‘Resident’, a doctor who has been working in the hospital for more than 12 months since graduating. Sometimes you will see an ‘Intern’, a doctor who has been working for less than 12 months since graduating.

The Registrar is responsible for supervising the team of residents and interns, and consults with the admitting doctor as required. It is advisable to direct your questions about the day-to-day medical progress of the patient to the Registrar.

Many of our hospitals in the Northern NSW Local Health District are teaching hospitals, and the patient may be asked for their permission to have student doctors and nurses present when the doctor is doing check-ups of patients.

Health Service Manager

The Health Service Manager is responsible for the overall management of the Hospital, Community Health Service or Multipurpose Service (MPS).

Nursing Staff

Nurses provide support for both the medical and personal care needs of a patient.

The Nursing Unit Manager, or NUM, is responsible for all nursing staff on the ward and overall patient care. The NUM can assist with questions you have about the patient.

Other senior nursing staff such as Registered Nurses, or RNs, are also able to answer and follow up on questions you may have, or make referrals to other health professionals such as Allied Health staff.

The NUM is the best person with which to raise any unresolved patient-related concerns or issues you may have.

Registered Nurses (RN) provide treatment, administer medications and monitor patients.

Enrolled Nurses (EN) provide treatment and administer some medications and provide personal care.

Assistants in Nursing (AIN) provide care such as bathing and meals.

The Discharge Planner is usually a nurse specialist involved in coordinating the patient’s discharge to home.  Sometimes they are a Social Worker.  They are responsible for care planning and referring to community based services if required.  Some hospitals may not have a dedicated discharge planning position. In smaller hospitals discharge planning will be coordinated by the nursing staff or ward clerk.

Allied Health Staff

Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Worker - provides culturally appropriate services for patients, families and carers. Liaison workers are located in many public hospitals in NSW. You can contact an Aboriginal Liaison Worker through the Social Work Department or ask for a referral.

Aboriginal Health Care Practitioner - may also be available to provide clinical assessment and treatment of patients and liaise with other health staff for patient care coordination.

Dieticians - provide advice on issues associated with diet and nutrition and can devise healthy meals plans which address specific dietary needs and health issues.

Physiotherapists (physio) - assist people with movement problems which may have been present at birth, acquired through an accident or injury, or are the result of ageing. Physiotherapy can help reduce pain and stiffness, strengthen muscles and increase mobility.

Occupational Therapists (OT) - focus on maximising a person’s function in the activities of daily living. This can include helping people regain their life activities after events such as a hip replacement or stroke, teaching people and their carers how to use equipment, and advice on how to modify the home to improve safety.

Speech Pathologists (speechie) - diagnose and treat language, speech and swallowing problems. They can work with people who have difficulty communicating because of a stroke, brain injury, cerebral palsy, dementia or hearing loss as well as other problems that affect speech and language. Speech Pathologists also help people with swallowing food and drink safely.

Social Workers - are a key contact point for families, providing information, support and speaking on your behalf when necessary. They consider the patient’s medical needs, social situation, home environment, background and family dynamics.

Referrals to Allied Health - If the doctor or nursing staff identifies that the patient needs to see an allied health staff member, a referral will be made to the relevant service/s. If you think the person you care for would benefit from being seen by an allied health staff member, you can ask for a referral, or you could contact the allied health staff directly by phoning the relevant department in the hospital or local Community Health Centre.