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You’ll have to forgive me for writing about something that was published a while ago (December 2009) but, in my search for something intriguing to write about today, I’ve just come across a fascinating story – albeit one that isn’t exactly a current one.  Also, given that I have written about hospitals a couple of times in the last few weeks, it seems quite relevant too.

So here goes. Well anyone who’s visited someone in hospital recently – at least here in the UK – may have discovered, to their cost, that flowers have been banned from many wards. Yes, flowers. And if they haven’t been banned, then their use is quite positively discouraged by hospital staff.

So why, you may ask? Well the reasons read like health and safety riskfactorphobia in nuclear mode. The water they’re kept in is a breeding ground for bacteria, says a study carried out in 1973. Oooh, I’m scared. And earlier last century, people believed that flowers competed with humans for oxygen, and it was a regular practice to remove bedside flowers at night so that patients wouldn’t suffocate. No really, I’m not making this up. Then last year, Southend University Hospital, I’m led to believe, imposed a ban on flowers, citing that it wasn’t safe to have them near high-tech equipment (quite why that is I’m not sure – perhaps they were afraid the flowers would get knocked over and the water would damage the equipment’s electrics…).

So well done to the researchers from Imperial College London who looked into the issue of hospital flowers, and found that – despite the nail-biting anxiety that surrounds it – none of the reasons why flowers are banned or discouraged can actually be justified.

Take the bacteria-ridden flower water issue, for instance. According to the Imperial College researchers, there hasn’t been a single recorded case of flower water ever causing an infection among patients. So flower water may stink a bit, but it’s never killed anyone or made anybody ill – at least, not in a UK hospital.

The stealing oxygen idea was shown as a myth years ago – in fact, studies show that the affect flowers have on oxygen is so negligible, it doesn’t even justify the energy used to remove them from patients’ besides to another room. And as for flowers being a danger to high-tech hospital equipment, well that’s just plain idiotic, given that food and drink could just as easily be spilled on electrics – and they haven’t banned cups of tea from hospitals to my knowledge. Not yet, anyway.

So what’s the real reason for the ban? Well according to the report, published in the British Medical Journal, managing flowers – changing their water, cleaning up fallen petals, chucking them in the bin when they’re past their best – is a concern for hospital staff. That’s right. So, despite all those studies that show how flowers have a positive impact on mood and emotions (one study apparently found that patients who were allowed to have flowers by their beds had lower blood pressure, anxiety and pain levels than other patients who weren’t allowed plants of any kind), it’s all down to the fact that looking after them is just too much flipping work.

I’m speechless.

Well, as we’re all aware, our new government could spell possible changes in the NHS, which includes hospitals. Let’s hope this ridiculous attitude to flowers is one of them.