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Care must be individualised when it comes to terms of endearment

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Arabella Sinclair-Penwarden talks about individualised care and using terms of endearment when talking to patients

It was a rare, housewifely moment – I could have stepped out of a chapter of Little House on the Prairie, so domesticated I looked, up to my arms in flour.

Then the phone rang, shattering the moment and I gestured to my husband to get my mobile out of my handbag. He shook his head vehemently.

We argued until the caller hung up. He protested he couldn’t possibly be expected to rifle through my handbag. I countered that, having been present in the birthing room, he should be able to cope with getting something out of my handbag.

Privacy and dignity can have so many, very different interpretations.

It’s easy to make generalisations about privacy and dignity. For many aspects of nursing care, we are fairly safe in doing so. We wouldn’t dream of bathing someone with the curtains open.

But terms of endearment, for example, can be a professional minefield.

The term ‘dearie’, for example, has just been vetoed by the NMC. Well, that’s not a problem for me. Never having used the phrase, it would not trip convincingly off my tongue. I’d sound like someone with a walk-on part in a 1940s film.

But where I live, ‘my love’, is the local term of endearment. And, while I fully agree that the patient’s preferred names should be used wherever possible, when faced with an unknown and distressed patient, a ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ could be a bit much. This point is recognised by the NMC guidance, which highlights the fact that some familiar phrases could sound odd if omitted.

It all boils down to individualised care, which is what we should be doing anyway. I’m perfectly happy to be called ‘my
love’ – but I can’t imagine anyone saying that to my mother. Dearie me, no.

Arabella Sinclair-Penwarden is a recently qualified staff nurse

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