By Jane ElliottHealth reporter, BBC NewsWhen a child is ill in hospital, a parent's first reaction is to be with them.Most hospitals now allow parents to sleep overnight with their child, providing a bed or sofa on the ward. But until the 1970s this practice was not only frowned upon - it was actively discouraged. Staff worried that the children were upset when their parents left, and so there was a blanket ban. Changing nursingA concerned nurse, Pamela Hawthorn, disagreed and her study 'Nurse I want my mummy' published in 1974, changed the face of paediatric nursing. Professor Martin Johnson, professor of nursing at the University of Salford, said that the work of nurses like Pamela had changed the face of patient care. "When they are poorly you don't want to leave them and they want you there"Sharon Dennis"Pamela's study was done against the background of a lively debate in paediatrics and psychology as to the degree women should spend with children in the outside world and the degree to which they should be allowed to visit children in hospital. "The idea was that if mum came to visit a small child in hospital the child would be upset and inconsolable for hours. "Yet the nurse noticed that if mum did not come at all the child stayed in a relatively stable state but they might be depressed. "Of course we know now that they had almost given up hope that mum was ever coming back. "To avoid a little bit of pain they said that no-one should visit. "But children were alone and depressed so Hawthorn said parents should be allowed to visit." Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said her work had been seminal. "Her research put an end to the days when parents handed their children over to strangers at the door of the hospital ward. "As a result of her work, parents and carers are now recognised as partners in care and are afforded the opportunity to stay with their children whilst they are in hospital, which has dramatically improved both parents' and children's experience of care." Time with childrenThat chance to spend time with their child is something that parents like Sharon Dennis are very grateful for. Her son Robert Riley, aged seven, from London, was born with oesophageal atresia - where the oesophagus does not join the stomach. Over the years he has had two major operations to put the tube into his stomach and several other hospital stays, of a week at a time to stretch the tube. Sharon said that knowing she can stay with her son was important. "It is not really very nice for the parents being in hospital as you can't sleep very well because you are on an airbed or Z-bed next to the bed, but you have to look after your child. "When they are poorly you don't want to leave them and they want you there, plus you know how they are." Sasha Morris, a play specialist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, agreed that parental input is vital. "We are in the newer part of the hospital, so we have reclining chairs by the bed and we let parents know what is available on the ward. If they come for a pre-operative visit we would introduce them to the staff and give them a tour of the ward. "We tell the parent what is around locally and, if the child is well enough, that we have a children's park nearby and introduce them to parents of other children with the same condition." "A hospital stay can be quite overwhelming, so having the parent or a carer stay overnight to help the child to adjust to what can be a difficult experience is great. "A child coming into hospital has to cope with new smells, new sounds and a different routine, so having someone familiar with them makes sure that they think the hospital is a safe place."This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

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