Types Of Hospital Ward (Explained By An NHS Doctor)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Hospital wards are most often differentiated based on specific requirements, conditions, or age groups to ensure optimal care and management of patients.

Wards are designed in a way to maximise efficiency and organisation within a hospital, allowing medical professionals to focus on delivering high-quality care.

This article is going to explore the various types of wards in hospitals, which typically follow a hierarchical and divisional structure.

General Wards

General wards in hospitals are divided based on the patients they serve- most often using gender as a differentiator.

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Male Wards

Male wards are designated areas where male patients receive treatment and care for various medical conditions.

These wards are equipped to handle a multitude of cases, ranging from less severe illnesses to more complex medical issues.

Female Wards

Similarly, female wards cater to the needs and treatment of female patients.

As with male wards, female wards deal with a variety of medical situations, from common illnesses to more specialised conditions that require targeted treatment and care.

Mixed Wards

Mixed wards are hospital areas that accommodate both male and female patients.

These wards are designed to provide a comfortable and inclusive environment for patients of all genders while adhering to privacy and comfort standards.

Mixed wards are no less equipped or staffed than gender-specific wards, and the healthcare professionals working in these areas possess the skills and knowledge necessary to address the diverse needs of their patients.

Specialised Wards

In many hospitals, specialised wards exist to cater to specific medical needs.

For instance, cardiology wards focus on patients with heart or circulatory issues, while respiratory wards accommodate patients with lung conditions.

There are huge number of different departments in a hospital, but here are a few other common examples:

Paediatric Wards

Paediatric wards are specifically dedicated to providing medical care for children, ranging from infants to young adults.

These wards are staffed with healthcare professionals who have specialised training in treating and caring for paediatric patients.

The environment in paediatric wards is often designed to be comfortable and child-friendly, with colourful decorations, toys, and child-sized furniture to help put children at ease.

Maternity Wards

Maternity wards cater to the needs of pregnant women and their newborn babies.

They provide the necessary care before, during, and after childbirth, ensuring a safe and healthy environment for both the mother and the infant.

Maternity wards typically include facilities for labour and delivery, as well as postnatal care rooms where mothers and babies can be closely monitored.

The staff in maternity wards often includes obstetricians, gynaecologists, midwives, and neonatal nurses, who work together to provide comprehensive care during this critical period.

Intensive Care Units

Intensive care units (ICUs) are specialised hospital wards designed to treat and monitor critically ill or severely injured patients who require constant, close monitoring and support from a highly trained multidisciplinary team.

ICUs are equipped with advanced medical equipment and technologies that aid in providing life-saving treatment to patients.

They are sometimes also referred to as critical care units (CCUs) or intensive therapy units (ITUs).

Patients in ICU often require support for multiple organ systems, often including assistance with breathing through a ventilator and invasive monitoring to closely track a patient’s vital signs.

High Dependency Units

High-dependency units (HDUs) sit between general wards and ICUs in terms of the level of care provided.

Patients in HDUs require a higher level of monitoring, intervention and treatment than those in a general ward, but they do not necessarily need the comprehensive critical care provided in an ICU.

HDUs typically have fewer beds than general wards, allowing for more personalised and attentive care for patients with complex or unstable medical conditions.

The staffing ratios in HDUs are higher than in general wards, ensuring experienced healthcare professionals are on hand to closely monitor and respond to any changes in a patient’s condition.

The Emergency Department

The Emergency Department (ED), also known as the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E), Emergency Room (ER), Emergency Ward (EW), or Casualty Department, is a specially designed hospital ward for providing acute care to patients who arrive without prior appointments.

Patients are typically brought to the ED by ambulances or other means when they require immediate medical attention.

The primary function of the Emergency Department is to assess, stabilise, and treat patients with a wide array of medical conditions, ranging from minor injuries and illnesses to life-threatening emergencies.

A team of healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, and other support staff, work together to ensure that patients receive prompt and appropriate care.

In this setting, triage plays a crucial role in determining the priority of patients based on the severity of their condition.

Although you may have never thought of it as a specialised ward, the Emergency Department is an essential part of any hospital, as it serves as the first point of contact for many patients experiencing critical or urgent health issues.

Isolation Wards

Isolation wards are crucial in hospitals as they play a key role in controlling and preventing the spread of infections.

These wards are designed to accommodate patients who are either the source of infection or require protection from infections due to a weakened immune system.

There are two types of isolation: source isolation (barrier nursing) and protective isolation (reverse barrier nursing).

In source isolation, the patient is considered the source of infection. The primary goal is to prevent the transmission of contagious diseases to other patients, staff, and visitors.

Preventing bacterial transmission is one of the reasons why hospitals are kept so cold.

Examples of such infections include highly transmissible or dangerous diseases, which may require strict isolation as a short-term temporary measure before transferring the patient to a specialised isolation unit.

Protective isolation, on the other hand, focuses on safeguarding immunocompromised patients. These individuals may be more susceptible to infections due to a weakened immune system.

A foundation year doctor in COVID PPE stands with her arms crossed
A doctor wearing a full set of PPE

The objective here is to provide a safe and clean environment for patients, reducing the chances of acquiring infections during their hospital stay.

Isolation wards typically consist of individual rooms, ensuring privacy and separation from other patients.

These rooms are equipped with necessary infection control measures, such as separate bathrooms, storage areas, and utility areas for increased safety.

Moreover, proper logistical flows of clean and dirty waste are maintained, while maintaining clear fire evacuation routes in the wards.

Psychiatric Wards

Psychiatric wards, sometimes referred to as mental health wards, are hospital wards designed to provide intense care for patients with psychiatric needs that cannot be met in outpatient settings.

There are various levels of security within psychiatric wards, including secure and low-security wards.

Secure Psychiatric Wards

Secure psychiatric wards are designed to accommodate patients with severe mental illnesses who pose a risk to themselves or others.

These wards often have locked doors or require permission for patients to leave the ward.

Some secure wards may have access to a secure outdoor space, such as a garden or courtyard, for patients to spend time in.

The environment in these wards is highly structured, with strict schedules and routines in place to ensure the safety of patients and staff.

Low-Security Psychiatric Wards

Low-security psychiatric wards provide care for patients with less severe mental health concerns or those who do not pose a significant risk to themselves or others.

These wards offer a more relaxed environment compared to secure psychiatric wards, often allowing patients more freedom to move around and engage in activities.

Despite their lower security measures, low-security psychiatric wards still maintain a structured environment to support patients in their recovery journey.

Wards Based On Length Of Stay

As well as gender or medical specialty, wards can also be divided based on how long patients are expected to stay there.

Short Stay Wards

Short-stay wards are designed to accommodate patients who require hospitalisation for a relatively brief period, typically less than 72 hours.

These wards focus on providing efficient and timely care for individuals with acute conditions that can be resolved or stabilised within this timeframe.

Patients in short-stay wards may include those presenting with chest pain, minor injuries, or non-serious head injuries as a few examples.

Day Surgery Wards

Day surgery wards cater to patients who undergo planned surgical procedures that do not necessitate an overnight stay in the hospital.

The range of day surgery procedures has expanded over the years, thanks to advances in medical technology and anaesthesia.

Examples of day surgery procedures might encompass endoscopic examinations, cataract surgery, and hernia repairs.

These wards focus on pre-operative preparation and post-operative recovery, with an emphasis on discharge planning and patient education to facilitate a smooth transition back to the home environment.

Ambulatory Care

Ambulatory care refers to healthcare services provided on an outpatient basis, without the need for hospital admission.

This type of care is primarily for patients with chronic conditions requiring ongoing management or for those needing diagnostic or therapeutic interventions that can be completed within the same day.

Examples of ambulatory care services include specialist consultations, diagnostic imaging, chemotherapy, and dialysis.

Ambulatory care centres are typically separate from hospital wards but may be located within the same premises or in dedicated facilities, ensuring efficient access to a range of comprehensive healthcare services for patients without the necessity of inpatient hospitalisation.

Final Thoughts

Every individual hospital will use a slightly different organisational structure for their wards.

However, there will generally be common divisions used, such as an A&E, some form of male and female general wards, and specialist wards including paediatrics.

Hopefully, you’ve now got a better understanding of the most common types of hospital wards and how they’re used to best serve patients.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.