Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

OPINION

'Dignity is integral to nursing, not something you learn to deliver'

  • 60 Comments

Dignity must be seen as the essence of nursing care, says Sara White

Ensuring the patient is at the centre of our care has been the ethos of good nursing practice for many, many years. Consequently, it both saddens and shocks me to read stories of nurses not delivering essential care, that water needs prescribing, that basic nutritional needs are not being met, and that neglect and abuse are occurring.

A consequence of this, and something undertaken in an effort to avoid such events occurring again, is the production of numerous reports and documents - the latest offering being the Commission on Dignity in Care’s Delivering Dignity: Securing Dignity in Care for Older People in Hospitals and Care Homes. A Report for Consultation, which was published in February. This has led me - and, I am sure, many others - to reflect on nursing and possibly question where the profession has gone astray.

Dignity is a complex phenomenon, which takes time to fully understand and appreciate. I believe the ability to comprehend care, compassion and dignity can only be fully understood with good education - not “training” as suggested in the report. Dignity is not “delivered” but is an integral aspect of a nurse’s role, part of which means being able to foster feelings of value and self worth in every patient and having the ability to encompass mutual respect.

“Dignity is not “delivered” but is an integral aspect of a nurse’s role, part of which means being able to foster feelings of value and self worth in every patient and having the ability to encompass mutual respect”

The week that the Delivering Dignity report was published, third-year student nurses at Bournemouth University were scheduled to present a topic that “considered national influences on healthcare delivery”. Here two groups - independently of each other - chose to explore dignity and both incorporated the Delivering Dignity report. Although discussion resulted in some students voicing their frustrations with the NHS - such as lack of staff, high workload and constant change, which they felt limited their time with patients and the ability to offer all the care they wished to - they felt the Delivering Dignity report, although “quite basic”, could be used in a practical way when working with junior or new staff and fellow students. They also thought it could be used constructively when challenging poor care.

So, having been a little despondent regarding the necessity of the Delivering Dignity report, I was proud that students could see its value and offer strategies regarding its use. Indeed, these same students will be the future leaders of healthcare and will be educated and empowered to change poor practice and role model that, which is good.

So where do we go now? I feel we all need to take ownership of the recommendations in the Delivering Dignity report and offer our thoughts. We need to reflect on our own opinions, together with the views of older people so we confidently see old age as a normal part of the life cycle that we will enter and enjoy.

Nurse educators need to ensure nursing programmes not only have dignity embedded in them, but also that the humanisation of healthcare is an everyday focus. I strongly believe higher education provides the knowledge and skills needed to be able to offer care that respects the dignity of patients and that an essential component of this education journey is the role modeling offered.

It is up to each and every one of us to make sure that dignity is not only part of who and what we are, but that it is also integral to how we are “living” nursing; if not, we must be willing to change. This means you - or, rather, we - need to find the time to, as the third-year students eloquently quoted, “Be the change you want to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi).

Sara White is framework leader undergraduate nursing, School of Health and Social Care, Bournemouth University

  • 60 Comments

Readers' comments (60)

  • George Kuchanny

    Could not agree more Sara. Thanks for the comprehensive view.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • presumably if invited guests come to your house they are treated with dignity so why should anyone coming to your hospital or on your ward be treated any differently. One of the first gestures of a host/ hostess is to offer their guest refreshment and make them feel at home. we had it drilled into us in the school of nursing and in the wards that patients and anybody else visiting, from the cleaner to the CEO, are our guests.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • further to the above. Anywhere we go, we also like to be treated with dignity and put at our ease and we all know exactly how this feels when we are not made to feel welcome or our needs are not met. For patients unable to cope for themselves this is greatly magnified.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • "Ensuring the patient is at the centre of our care has been the ethos of good nursing practice for many, many years."

    I would have thought since the days of Florence Nightingale.

    "... being able to foster feelings of value and self worth in every patient and having the ability to encompass mutual respect."

    sadly some do not appear to have learned this lesson which should have been learned and developed from an early age during childhood.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Of course, all these lovely words mean absolutely nothing if there are not enough of us to deliver the care our patients deserve.

    My great auntie recently spent some time on a elderly rehab unit, where the staff were positively heroic in their efforts to preserve the dignity of their patients. They failed, not because of poor attitudes or bad nursing. Simply....there were not enough of them.

    So please nurses, by all means challenge poor nursing, but let's stop generating report after report ignoring or trivialising the fundamental issues. A rehab ward with 3 staff for 30 dependent patients just isn't good enough.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • nor are emergencies piling up in ambulances outside A&E because of bed closures.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • how dignified is that being left on a hospital trolley in a corridor? and in what was, and may still be, one of the richest countries in the world with high income tax rates. A total disgrace!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • tinkerbell

    treat others as you would like to be treated, if you see others being treated shabbily speak up.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Absolutely Tinkerbell. That's the reason why I became a Dignity Champion to highlight the issue & challenge people who treat people in an undignifed manner.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Albert's Mum

    tinkerbell | 14-Mar-2012 8:45 am

    'treat others as you would like to be treated, if you see others being treated shabbily speak up.'

    That is exactly what NHS staff are now being told to do, as the theme of contemporary guidance.

    But it still isn't clear, how 'criticise the management and get persecuted or sacked' has been addressed - at least, that bit isn't entirely clear to me !

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Show 102050results per page

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.