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Nurses respond to guidance on addressing patients' spiritual needs

Discussions about spiritual needs of dying patients 'rarely, if ever, happen', say two specialist nurses.

Discussions about the spiritual needs of dying patients 'rarely, if ever, happen', according to two leading nurses.

Last week the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued guidance that sets out care standards for people in the final two or three days of life.

According to NICE, this includes healthcare professionals not being reluctant to ask about the dying person's spiritual, cultural, religious and social preferences.

A 2016 Royal College of Physicians audit of end of life care found spiritual wishes were only documented in English hospitals for one in seven dying people who were still able to communicate.

Rare conversations

Commenting on the guidance, Macmillan clinical nurse specialist in thyroid and skin cancer Kenneth Day told Nursing Standard: 'Those conversations rarely, if ever, happen.

'Mainly it's because that

Discussions about the spiritual needs of dying patients 'rarely, if ever, happen', according to two leading nurses.


Picture: Alamy

Last week the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued guidance that sets out care standards for people in the final two or three days of life.

According to NICE, this includes healthcare professionals not being reluctant to ask about the dying person's spiritual, cultural, religious and social preferences.

A 2016 Royal College of Physicians audit of end of life care found spiritual wishes were only documented in English hospitals for one in seven dying people who were still able to communicate.

Rare conversations

Commenting on the guidance, Macmillan clinical nurse specialist in thyroid and skin cancer Kenneth Day told Nursing Standard: 'Those conversations rarely, if ever, happen.

'Mainly it's because that is not the primary reason a nurse is with a patient. But it's also because even patients themselves are often not aware of their own spiritual leanings.'

Mr Day has trained as an interfaith minister and spiritual counsellor, and runs regular classes for nurses on fulfilling patients’ psychological and spiritual needs. 

He warned against confusing spirituality with religious faith: 'Spirituality refers more to a person's sense of self and how they go about finding meaning in life.

'That can be in terms of relationships, appreciation of art, love of animals, or music, or beauty.

'It could be as simple as playing their favourite song for them.'

Lack of confidence

University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust advanced nurse practitioner Jill Hardman-Smith said: 'Although it should be considered part of holistic nursing, spirituality is an area that is often brushed over because nursing and medical staff don't think it is their place to broach the subject.'

She added that training would help with implemention of the guidance: 'Staff confidence needs to be improved. They need to be more open and willing, and also to regularly check in with the patient in case anything has changed.'


Further information

Nurses urged to address dying patients' spiritual needs


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