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What should you tell care home residents when a fellow resident dies?

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21 January, 2013

A recent paper on end of life care in nursing homes published in Nursing Times found that “in the context of homes as communal settings, residents commonly voiced concern at the information vacuum that can surround the death of fellow residents, when they are given no information about how their life concluded or the care they received”.

When a patient dies on a hospital ward what information should you give other patients?

Readers' comments (40)

  • tinkerbell

    absurd at it may sound, you could let the other people know in a sensitive manner they passed away if they ask.

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  • misleading title to the article which seems a common failing in NT.

    when a patient dies there is not change in the rules of confidentiality.

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  • I agree that confidentiality rules still apply. The family may not want other people to know either. It should be up to them who knows.

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  • care-home or hospital ward?

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  • tinkerbell

    i thought we were talking about care homes.

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  • question above was

    "When a patient dies on a hospital ward what information should you give other patients?"

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  • Speaking as an ex-Residential Care Manager, yes confidentiality matters and is still a viable comment. However, what a lot of people don't recognise here is that in residential care - they become like a family, they are all mostly friends and are very involved with the people they have lived with, for some well over 5-6 years. It can be very upsetting for the other residents when they are told nothing at all about why a member of their small community isn't their that morning.

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  • This is interesting for two reasons. It's the first time I've ever seen this important topic raised and it has the potential to fly in the face of one of nursing's Holy Grails: the maintenance of patient/client/resident confidentiality (and should that cease after someone has died?).

    Fact. A Care or Residential Home is most definitely not a hospital. In the latter death is more likely to be sudden and other patients are much more likely to be satisfied with a short sensitive explanation that someone has died if they enquire.

    However as Alicia has pointed out the relationship between the deceased and others in a residential setting can often be familial. Also residents are more likely to acknowledge the reality of death. These factors often demand that something much more than a short explanation that someone has died. No matter how sensitively phrased, this could easily come across as a hard, mind-your-own-business-and-I-can't-tell-you-anything-else response.

    As nurses we are correctly conditioned to divulging as little information as possible about clients to persons who have no legitmate business knowing it.

    This really is a case where every nurse/manager/ must assess each situation on its own merits - but- whatever your intentions you forget the NMC's view of client confidentiality at your peril.



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  • Ellen Watters

    This is a tricky one and really depends on the individual circumstances. I remember working on a florence nightingale style ward and pulling all the screens so that the porters could pick up a body to take to the morgue. The other patients knewwhat was going on but rarely asked.

    If it was a ward where the patient may be there for some time, or were out and in on a regular basis i.e a respiratory ward, they may get to know each other and bonds develop. Then, if asked what happened to so and so.. do you lie?

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  • Let's face it - in the Nightingale style wards, there was only was one reason that all the screens got drawn simultaneously, and that was because someone had passed away. (The coffin shaped trolley was often a clue too!!!)
    Is death a confidential matter however? Death - and the registration thereof - is a public event, with records that can be viewed. So I'm not convinced that there is much, if any, breach of NMC regs on this.

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  • patients usually sense when another patient has died. all that is needed is to sensitively confirm this. there is no need to go into personal or clinical details of the patient who has died but perhaps explain what has happened and how they died if questions are asked. people do not always want or need more information than they request.

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  • eileen shepherd

    Sorry if I have caused some confusion. Although the research related to care homes the issues affects nurses working in care homes and hospital wards. I think it would be useful to get nurses opinions from both areas.

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  • Tricky one this.

    If asked directly if a patient has died I don't think it appropriate to lie, patients would never trust you if you did so.

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  • Anonymous | 22-Jan-2013 11:05 pm

    who ever suggested to lying to a patient?

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  • Surely on a ward patients get to know each other and it is obvious when the patient in the next bed is no longer there and they weren't discharged home. Also is there this reticence if a patient is discharged and someone in the same bay asks where they are? After all every patient in the bay is aware of everyone elses other 11 ADLs, so why should dying be different?
    In the context of a care home then that establishment is the residents own home, and if one of their cohort dies then they will surely notice and almost have a right to know what has occurred, if you don't then how do you explain the arrival of a new resident 'replacing' the one has died?

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  • 11 ADLs, - what is this?

    in my home, every time a resident dies a copy of the notice from the local newspaper is put up on door of the lift in the main entrance where everybody can see it. This usually carries a photo and may contain a brief biography, list of family members and details of the funeral arrangements for those who wish to attend.

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  • when practical to discuss creating an advanced directive with a patient/resident then perhaps this aspect could be included?

    ok, after the point of death i guess we're talking about a will but at least some written guidance for agents/powers of attorney, nursing /residential staff. etc.

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  • Anonymous 23-Jan 2:32 pm

    ADLs = Activities of Daily Living from one of the Nursing models. There are twelve in all including eating and drinking, mobilising, elimination, expressing sexuality, the 12th being dying.

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  • Anonymous | 24-Jan-2013 11:28 am

    from Anonymous 23-Jan 2:32 pm

    many thanks.

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  • once again it would seem to boil down to good and effective communication and sensitivity to the needs of the service users, required of all nurses, care workers and anybody else involved with home residents or patient care.


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