Hospitals prefer that visitors sit on seats provided and not on the bed
A GP has criticised the rules which prevent hospital doctors and visitors from sitting on patients' beds, calling them "demeaning" and "joyless".
Many hospitals have taken this action to try to reduce infections like MRSA and Clostridium difficile (C diff).
Some hospitals have also banned flowers for the same reason.
The Department of Health says that these policies are decided at a local level and that the ban is good practice.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr Iona Heath argues that there is "no hard evidence for either of these demeaning prohibitions".
She believes that rules preventing visitors from sitting on patients' beds have no place in hospitals.
"Doctors should never be discouraged from sitting, because patients consistently estimate that they have been given more time when the doctor sits down rather than stands.
"Such interactions are precious and should be made easier rather than more difficult," she says.
Dr Heath acknowledges that infection control is important, but wonders if this kind of response is an over-reaction.
"Is it all in the interests of being seen to be doing something very noticeable about the worrying levels of hospital-based infections, however ineffective and otherwise disruptive?"
Low infection levels
Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is one of the many Trusts which do not allow visitors to sit on patients' bed in the interests of preventing the spread of infection.
A spokesman said: "We are committed to doing all we can to prevent infection and as a result have very low rates of MRSA and C difficile."
The deputy chief nurse at University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust confirmed that they also ban anyone from sitting on patients' beds "for infection prevention reasons". This applies to visitors and staff alike.
Katherine Murphy, from The Patients' Association, said that it is up to the ward manager to set the rules to which visitors must then adhere to.
"But there should be sufficient seating for visiting relatives to use," she added.
"When people are very ill, relatives can feel closer by sitting on the bed. Some discretion should be allowed."
The decision to ban doctors and visitors from sitting on beds or bringing in flowers is decided at a local level. Some hospitals have different rules in different wards, depending on the risk of infection to patients.
Patients with MRSA, for example, could shed contaminated skin onto the bed and this could be picked up and transmitted to someone else.
A spokesperson from The Department of Health said: "While any link between cut flowers and infections is small, some hospitals may choose to ban them from wards where patients have their immunity to infection severely reduced by their current disease or treatment.
"It is of course necessary to ensure that basic care applies to cut flowers, including replacing the water at regular intervals."