Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2009: Professional matters

Wards of the roses

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 17 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5257
  1. Giskin Day, course director, medical humanities,
  2. Naiome Carter, medical student
  1. 1Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ
  1. Correspondence to: G Day{at}

    With increasing numbers of hospitals banning bedside flowers from wards, Giskin Day and Naiome Carter investigate the pros and cons of floral bouquets

    Cut flowers form an important part of rituals surrounding celebration and consolation in a variety of cultures. Blooms are brought to the bedsides of the sick as tokens of care, but concerns about infection control have caused many hospital wards in the UK to ban, or at least discourage, bedside bouquets. Is this anxiety justified? What do patients feel about flower policies? We talked to patients and staff at the Royal Brompton Hospital and the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital about their attitudes to flowers.

    Stemming infection?

    Most hospitals have longstanding and uncontroversial policies of not permitting flowers in high dependency units. Press reports of flowers also being banned from general wards started appearing in 1996, when an Aberdeen hospital introduced a “no flowers” policy on an orthopaedic ward.1

    The impetus behind the trend was that hospitals needed to show they were taking hospital acquired infections seriously. Banning flowers was a visible sign that bedside protocols were being revised. Hospitals tended to justify their actions by claiming that flower water harboured potentially deadly bacteria. Indeed, a 1973 study had found that flower water contained high counts of bacteria.2 However, subsequent research found that there was no evidence that flower water has ever caused hospital acquired infection,3 and the authors of one study concluded, “Banning flowers is not popular with the public and is unnecessary according to the evidence available.”4 Yet hospitals continue to introduce “no flower” policies, in spite of the Department of Health acknowledging in 2007 that it was “not aware of any instance of health care associated infection being traced to cut flowers in the hospital ward setting.”5

    Other negative effects have been …

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