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Health staff 'need cultural guide'


A leading surgeon has called for the development of a national training guide to help staff care for patients with specific religious and cultural needs.

Aiman Alzetani, a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, said the current lack of basic training and information for healthcare professionals across the UK had created “obstacles” for staff and “disconnected” them from some patients.

He spoke out ahead of a presentation on raising cultural awareness at University Hospital Southampton Foundation Trust’s annual equality and diversity conference.

He said: “Unfortunately, as religious and cultural awareness is not currently an essential part of training and development for healthcare professionals, many remain innocently unaware of its importance to some groups in society.

“It can be a source of frustration for clinical staff when patients do not seem to be co-operating but, in the case of Muslim patients for example, it could be something as simple as someone trying to pass them food in their left hand, which they wash with, instead of their right.

“Muslim patients are also required to hand wash before and after eating and, if bed bound, may need a portable hand wash facility which, again, can seem odd or unnecessary to those who are not familiar with such processes.”

Mr Alzetani said these instances were common, particularly among patients unable to communicate clearly, but there were also many other scenarios seen regularly in hospitals nationwide.

He continues: “It is not widely known Muslims are not allowed to shake hands with a member of the opposite sex, that intoxicating drugs are not permissible or that not all male family members are allowed to visit a female relative without her hijab on.

“These are all situations that could cause issues between staff and patients, but they could be easily avoided with some basic training or information to help guide staff - and that goes for any religion or culture which involves sensitive traditions or rituals.”

He said he would now push for the development of a pocket or ward-based guide on all religions and cultures for use across the NHS, as well as the introduction of staff ‘culture champions’ in hospitals to offer advice, training and support.


Readers' comments (13)

  • A considerable number of such guides to religion and culture have been produced over the years. It is odd that they have had so little impact.

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  • 'Cultural' and 'needs' should read 'cultural' and 'preferences'. There is usually nothing physically detrimental in having to forego one's cultural norms. Urgent physical needs outrank cultural preferences which are observed by choice and indoctrination.
    Inadvertent ignorance of cultural prefences of individuals should not be taken as a personal insults.

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  • Frankly I think there are far more pressing issues to address in our Hospitals. And I agree with Ebernoe above, these are peoples preferences not needs.

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  • I think we are getting confused between cultural and religious needs. I think judging from the responses of the readers we are still a long way of understading the religious and cultural needs of our patients. It has nothing to do with preferences. With preferences, there is a choice! There is ample evidence to suggest that for Muslim patients their spiritual need come before the physical needs.

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  • Removed due to potentially offensive nature. Please refer to this site's terms and conditions before posting further:<br/><br/>

  • Vered a NURSE
    Very interesting to relate only to the need of our Muslim patients. What about the Yews, the Hindi, the African or Chinese patients. When treating a patient one needs to ask permission and accept their decisions.
    Cultural differences makes our profession (nursing) a challenge and vey rewarding. All over the world we are teaching this subject so you did not bring any new insights in your article.

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  • Though I agree with the premis that guidance on culture, religion and beliefs should be outlined, to make it clearer for staff, it should encompas all religions and cultures.
    However, patients should be actively involved in their care, and at this stage any beliefs should be taken into consideration. Guidance of this nature, could actually lead to further sterotyping of people, anf the art of communication could be lost.
    Surely asking the patient what they want and gaining an understanding of their viewpoints is more important than a written guidance!

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  • michael stone

    This is one of those things that makes perfect sense, until you realise how difficult it is in practice for everyone to take on board everything they 'ideally should know about' - as the previous poster commented, being aware of the issue is a good start:

    'Surely asking the patient what they want and gaining an understanding of their viewpoints is more important than a written guidance!'

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  • I wonder if the author of this piece has his own agenda?

    If an acutely ill patient or the patient's male relatives decide that their female relative may only be cared for by female professionals what then? Are we supposed to reorder the staffing on a busy/pressed ward accordingly to accommodate the needs of a single patient (or should we reserve one ward for one particular "cultural" norm or faith only)?

    Understanding the imperative to care for people as professionally and efficiently as possible under invariably difficult conditions whilst being sensitive to their individual needs is one thing: kow-towing to the religious requirements of one particular faith or cultural norm is quite another.

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  • we had excellent and comprehensive training during basic SRN training in how to respond to the needs of individuals from all of the major religions, and further knowledge is acquired throughout one's career through experience. if you work in multinational environments it is essential and has always stood me in good stead. there are also usually other staff from these groups and religious leaders you can consult when in doubt.

    My only faux pas was that we were expected to turn deceased practicing Moslems to face Mecca in the East and being somewhat of a novice and working in a French speaking environment at the time I asked my poor moribund patient who was not in any position to respond to my questions whether he was a 'croissant' when in fact the intended question was as to whether or not he was 'croyant'! Fortunately, I believe my question went unheard before i realised my silly mistake.

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