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About the RCN's work on dignity

The RCN's 'Dignity: at the heart of everything we do' gave support and direction to the UK's nursing workforce during delivery of care for patients and clients of any health status in every setting.

We have now reached the end of the first year of our work on dignity and this marks the start of a new phase.

As the roll-out of the campaign concludes we have begun to evaluate the impact of the dignity work and measure its effectiveness. We have had tremendous positive feedback about the campaign and we know already that it is having a significant effect on both individuals and organisations.

In 2009/2010 we will be continuing to deliver our work on dignity in a different way. We will update these web pages with more information about this as soon as we can.

Background to our work on dignity

The RCN believes that every member of the nursing workforce should prioritise dignity in care, placing it at the heart of everything we do. Yet while dignity is clearly a vital component of care, the RCN is concerned that it is beginning to be lost.

When dignity is absent from care, people feel devalued, lacking control and comfort. They may also lack confidence, be unable to make decisions for themselves, and feel humiliated, embarrassed and ashamed.

Providing dignity in care centres on three integral aspects: respect, compassion and sensitivity. In practice, this means:

  • Respecting patients' and clients' diversity and cultural needs; their privacy - including protecting it as much as possible in large, open-plan hospital wards; and the decisions they make
  • Being compassionate when a patient or client and/or their relatives need emotional support, rather than just delivering technical nursing care
  • Demonstrating sensitivity to patients' and clients' needs, ensuring their comfort.

Patients and clients can also experience dignity - or its absence - in what they wear, such as gowns, and in the physical environment where treatment takes place. For example:

  • facilities such as toilets should be well maintained and cleaned regularly
  • curtains between beds should close properly to offer some measure of privacy
  • toilet doors should be closed when in use
  • bays in wards should be single-sex
  • gowns should be designed and made in a way that allows them to be fastened properly to avoid accidental exposure
  • privacy should be provided for private conversations, intimate care and personal activities, such as going to the toilet.

The RCN aims to highlight that dignity is the essence of nursing care and should be at the heart of everything we do as a profession.