Academics have criticised the level of support student nurses get in the care of the dead, after Nursing Times revealed evidence suggesting over half of deceased hospital patients are not properly treated.
Principal teaching fellow at Warwick Medical School Jan Cooper said there was “very, very little attention given to the emotional impact” of last offices on new nurses who might never have seen a dead body before.
She has researched how student nurses are taught to deal with deceased patients and told Nursing Times students were uneasy with the way training in last offices tended to focus only on the practical procedures and ignored emotional issues.
“What my research found is that students didn’t like that; they really hated the de-personalisation; covering the head, taking off the ring and the wrapping up, the packaging, of the body,” Ms Cooper said.
“It’s very difficult because through last offices the patient is transformed from someone they cared for and knew to a corpse.”
Last week Nursing Times revealed hospital audits had found last offices procedures had not been carried out correctly in more than half of deaths.
Head of nursing at the University of Birmingham Professor Collette Clifford told Nursing Times staff could be unrealistic about how much exposure to last offices a new nurse will have had in their training.
Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust’s induction programme for all new nurses covers last offices and means no newly qualified nurse is left to perform them without a senior colleague present.
Divisional senior nurse in medicine for older people Gill Gould said the main emotional problem nurses wanted addressed was the attitude of some porters.
She said: “Nurses were very distressed when they had cared for someone for a period of weeks and then the porters would come in and the patient was treated as if they didn’t exist.”
It is down to individual NHS employers to make sure their student nurses are trained in last offices as there is no national specification and universities set their own curriculums.
Council of Deans of Health director of policy Matthew Hamilton told Nursing Times: “Whilst not all pre-registration programmes will feature explicit modules on the last offices, theoretical and practical elements of this fundamental part of care will feature in many universities syllabi to enable them to practise with compassion, dignity and respect.”
Nursing Times practice content
Registering for free on nursingtimes.net gives you access to thousands of peer-reviewed articles that will help you improve your nursing practice.
After you register, you’ll have access to our practice archive, including all-time favourites such as: