Page last updated at 07:52 GMT, Sunday, 27 April 2008 08:52 UK

Nurses raise 'dignity' concerns

Elderly person being taken a cup of tea
More than 2,000 nurses were polled

Eight out of 10 nurses say they have left work distressed because they have been unable to treat patients with the dignity they deserve, a poll suggests.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) poll of more than 2,000 UK nurses cited washing and privacy as key issues.

The government said high quality care was a top priority, but a patients' group said nurse standards had slipped.

The report comes as thousands of nurses gather in Bournemouth for the RCN's annual conference.

The four-day meeting will see a range of issues debated, from NHS targets to cleaning standards, ahead of a speech by Health Secretary Alan Johnson on Wednesday.

Dignity should not be an afterthought or an optional extra
Peter Carter, RCN general secretary

The nurses polled by the RCN highlighted a range of dignity issues that needed to be addressed.

In particular, they said hospitals were still not able to guarantee non-emergency patients single-sex accommodation despite long-running attempts by ministers.

They also pointed out that patient dignity was being hampered by a lack of specialist lifting equipment, ill-fitting bed curtains, insufficient washing and toilet facilities and staff shortages.

One nurse said: "Patients seem to be becoming numbers not people. I am having to fight against what the system wants in order to provide dignified care to my patients."

In total, 81% of those quizzed said they sometimes or always left their workplace feeling distressed or upset because they had not been able to give patients the kind of dignified care that they should.

And 86% said dignity should be a higher priority.


Peter Carter, general secretary of the RCN, said: "Dignity should not be an afterthought or an optional extra.

"Each and every patient - whether they are in a hospital, a GP's surgery, in the community or in a care home - deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.


Nurses at work

"Nurses are being asked to care for patients in wards that are really not properly equipped.

"For example, there are still copious examples of mixed toilets, washing and bathing facilities, which is very distressing to patients of both genders.

"There are examples where there are ill-fitting curtains around beds, and people using bedpans don't have the privacy."

But Joyce Robins, of Patient Concern, said: "While nurses are undoubtedly under pressure and the government could do more to help, I must say that we are increasingly hearing that patients are unhappy with the care they get from nurses.

"The perception of them has dropped and some of that is down to their own standards.

"In particular, they are being given more and more responsibility and I think there is a perception that nurses now feel they are above the basic care that is so important to patients and was always part of the nurse's remit, things such as help at meal times and going to the toilet."

Charlotte Potter, of the charity Help the Aged, said: "Establishing and maintaining dignity for patients is an issue of paramount importance.

"Nurses are key to ensuring dignity through care but they do not work in a vacuum. If they do not receive appropriate support, patients will lose out."

Government response

Care Services Minister Ivan Lewis said: "Nurses, like other NHS professionals, have a duty to treat patients with dignity at all times, however they also have a right to expect the necessary support and resources to make this possible.

"Putting respect for dignity at the heart of patient care is now one of the top priorities for the NHS.

"Over the last 18 months we have worked with the RCN and other groups to ensure that dignity is now on the agenda of every hospital and care home in the this country.

"In the next few weeks we will announce a major expansion of our Dignity in Care campaign and Lord Darzi's next stage review of the NHS will highlight that personal care is not a luxury but integral to world-class clinical care."

Michael Summers explains some of the concerns of both nurses and patients

Chief Nursing Officer Christine Beasley said: "I believe strongly that dignity, respect, care, and compassion are at the heart of good nursing care whenever and wherever it takes place.

"Creating the conditions that will enable nurses to provide high quality and personalised nursing care has been a key theme of my work with nurse leaders this year.

"Many are using initiatives like the Productive Wards programme to help nurses and other frontline staff find ways to release time to care."

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