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This paper presents findings from a study of the nursing role in rehabilitation hospital wards for elderly people and focuses on early morning dressing; this is a microcosm of service delivery but it illustrates the way in which institutional practices impinge on patient experiences and highlights areas which warrant attention for the future development of rehabilitation services for elderly people in hospital. The reported findings are drawn from a non-participant structured observational study of ‘early morning rising’ on rehabilitation wards for elderly people.