Most general children's wards have a limited number of single occupancy rooms. This poses problems when a child presents at hospital needing a single room when one is not available. In this first of a two-part article we present the findings of a literature review, beginning with an exploration of the psychological and social impact of isolation nursing. Evidence for the use of single rooms in infection control and to meet the psychosocial needs and personal preferences of children and families is then discussed. The literature supports the use of single rooms in infection control but also offers alternatives such as cohort nursing. In relation to psychosocial needs and family preferences the literature suggests that while there is an argument for ensuring privacy in certain circumstances, this needs to be balanced against the detrimental psychological effects of isolation. Part two in the February 2009 issue presents guidance for practice on the use of single rooms based on this review.