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How is the WI getting involved in improving UK healthcare?

Tuesday 14th June 2016
The WI is calling on the government to allow the carers of dementia patients into hospitals outside of standard visiting times. Image: Ondine32 via iStock
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    Members of the Women's Institute (WI) in the UK are calling on the government to change its dementia care offering throughout the country's hospitals.

    Following the organisation's recent annual general meeting (AGM), it has passed two resolutions aimed at improving health and environmental standards across Britain. One of these concerns drastically reducing the level of food waste from UK supermarkets, while the other is calling for the carers of people suffering from dementia to be allowed into hospitals outside of visiting hours to ensure patients are receiving the best possible care for their needs.

    Meanwhile, members of the WI in Manchester are getting involved in a separate campaign to encourage more people to sign up to the organ donation register and to let their loved ones know of their wishes.

    But just how much does the WI do for improving healthcare throughout Britain?

    Campaigning for improved dementia care

    At the WI's latest AGM, which took place in Brighton on Saturday June 11th, women from branches around the country voted to push forward a resolution to allow the friends, relatives and neighbours who care for dementia patients to be allowed into hospital wards outside of normal visiting hours.

    Three-quarters of delegates in attendance voted in favour of the resolution, meaning it will become a major focus for WI branches throughout the UK over the coming 12 months.

    Members hope that their efforts will see the government and the NHS decide to allow carers into hospital around the clock after the dementia patients they look after have been admitted to prevent them from becoming more confused or distressed during their stay. Some people living with dementia are unable to communicate effectively, so their carers will also be able to help in this regard.

    Janice Langley, chair of the National Federation of Women's Institutes, commented: "Whilst many hospitals in the UK have made great progress towards becoming dementia-friendly, there is evidence that this is not the case across the board and, as a result, people with dementia are suffering.

    "This campaign will see WI members looking at their own local hospitals to encourage positive progress and highlight where improvements are needed."

    Campaigning for more organ donors

    In Manchester, WI members have launched a campaign aimed at encouraging more people to talk about organ donation with their loved ones. While some may sign up to be on the organ donation register, their families, partners or friends do not always necessarily know of their wishes, meaning their organs may not be given to patients who need them.

    There is a particular shortage of organ donors in Manchester at present, with just one in four people on the register in comparison to the national average of one in three.

    In 2014, the city's WI branches voted with a 98 per cent majority to make sure all members discussed their organ donation wishes with those closest to them, and the institute recently joined forces with Manchester City Council for last month's NHS Blood and Transplant Day.

    Sarah Royall, a specialist organ donation nurse with the NHS Blood and Transplant division, stated: "Organ donation saves and transforms lives, and we are hugely grateful to the WI for helping us encourage more people to discuss organ donation.

    "We need more people to sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register, but also to make sure their family know about their decision."

    100 years of campaigning for better healthcare

    The two campaigns above are just the latest in a long line of healthcare-related causes that the WI has rallied for over the past 100 years.

    Members celebrated the organisation's centenary in 2015, when it looked back at the work the WI has done for the UK since it was first established in the midst of the First World War.

    During the last century, the WI has campaigned for more midwives to be trained up in the UK, to bring an end to the spread of venereal disease in the 1920s and to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

    The organisation received praise from then-prime minister Tony Blair for its efforts in 2000, who called members "a very powerful force for good".

    He also paid tribute to members' compassion and fearlessness in "tackling hard issues and the energy with which you further the cause of not just women, but British society".

    Written by James Puckle

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