The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has published on the subject of dignity and defines dignity this way: "Dignity is concerned with how people feel, think and behave in relation to the worth or value of themselves and others. To treat someone with dignity is to treat them as being of worth, in a way that is respectful of them as valued individuals" (RCN 2008, para 2).
In care situations, dignity may be promoted or diminished by:
- the physical environment
- organisational culture
- the attitudes and behaviour of the nursing team and others
- the way in which care activities are carried out.
A patient's dignity is particularly at risk in situations involving nutrition as has been highlighted by regulators and patient advocate groups (Age UK 2011; Care Quality Commission 2011).
Providing dignity in care centres on three integral aspects: respect, compassion and sensitivity (RCN Principles of Nursing Practice: Principle A). 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.
These resources were last accessed on 29 January 2015. Some of them are in PDF format - see How to access PDF files.
Age UK (2011) Malnutrition in hospital: Still hungry to be heard. Age UK website.
Care Quality Commission (2011) Dignity and nutrition inspection programme: national review. London: CQC.
RCN (2008) RCN's definition of dignity in Dignity resource. RCN website.
RCN (2010) Principles of Nursing Practice: Principle A
The Principles describe what everyone can expect from nursing practice, whether colleagues, patients, their families or carers. This page brings together RCN resources which are particularly relevant to Principle A which focuses on dignity.
For guidance and tools to dignity in nutritional care see Dignity resources.
See also Core nutritional care resources.