15 July 2021

How to promote dignity in health and social care

How to promote dignity in health and social care

What is dignity and why is it important in health and social care?

Caring with dignity focuses on a person’s value as an individual. This involves supporting the self-respect of the individual, understanding their capacities, memories, views and choices and not making assumptions about how they wish to be treated. This includes elements such as their religious views and beliefs, values and any other factors of their identity. If an individual’s capacity is limited and they are unable to communicate, health and social care staff should deliver the same standards of care that they would expect for a loved one or friend, and refer to an individual’s care plan or next of kin for information.

Dignity is important in health and social care because, if people feel their identity and value as a human being is not respected, it can stop them from enjoying life and living comfortably.

Dignity in care is a key part of our social care policy and this is set out in law in the Care Act 2014. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the Care Inspectorates of Scotland and Wales also assesses care providers on the dignity and respect provided for service users.

How to promote dignity in care

Identity

Often, it’s the little things that can make a big difference to the people you care for. Simply addressing your service users by their name in a friendly manner acknowledges that you know and care about who they are.

You can promote dignity by helping those you care for remember and celebrate their life history. Your life history is an important part of who you are. Some people in care may be at risk of losing their personal story for a range of reasons, for example if they struggle to communicate or if they live with memory difficulties. You can help them remember their history through ‘reminiscence’.

Here are some techniques you can try:

  • Use visual props such as family photos or video, or books to bring up memories. If it’s not possible to source their own photos, consider instead using props that represent the era or the subject matter. For example, if you know someone was in the army, show them a picture of a person in army uniform
  • Ask what their favourite song or musical artist is and play it to see if they enjoy it. If this is not possible, consider creating a playlist of music that was popular as they were growing up. Research shows that music listened to during our teenage years often stays with us forever
  • Appeal to olfactory senses (senses of taste and smell) with food and drink. For example, if you are working with a person from the Caribbean, serving ginger tea or a bit of rum punch could be an idea
  • Organise discussion groups with multiple residents to encourage interaction and help them make connections with others.

Choice and control

Providing those in your care with choice and control over their daily life is an essential part of quality care that promotes dignity. Freedom of all individuals in the UK is defined and protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.

Think of the choices you make as you get ready in the morning for work: what exact time you'd like to wake up, what you'll wear, when you'll leave the house. For most of us, dressing ourselves is a very personal and private activity. Personal taste and style have a huge part to play in our identities as individuals. Enabling someone in your care to choose their own clothes or their routine is one simple but effective way of promoting dignity. If they are unable to talk, offer suggestions of daily activities, for example, and keep a look out for their body language in response.

Any of these activities should be undertaken when the person wishes and not when it is convent for healthcare staff.

If you experience challenges with communication or understanding an individual’s preferences, consult their care plan and reach out to their family, friends or next of kin for guidance.

Communication

Good communication is essential in ensuring dignity in care. It is important that people have time to express their needs and preferences and that staff understand the person they are supporting. These preferences should feed into their care plan to ensure that all staff and next of kin are aware of the way they would like things to be done. These preferences should be refreshed, with feedback from the individual, to account for changes.

It is vital that health and social care staff develop other ways of communicating with people who have a cognitive impairment or limited speech. Consider your tone of voice, the speed you speak at, and how you use body language and gestures to emphasise what you are saying. Makaton, a form of signed language which also blends speech and symbols, could also be used. At Newcross, we offer free Makaton training courses for all staff.

Eating

Is food easy to eat? Does it look appealing? Does the person eating have the right amount of privacy they need? These are the questions you need to answer when a service user is eating. Everyone has a different relationship with food and this needs to be taken into account.

It’s important to ensure that, when eating, the individual has enough support to eat but a balance is struck to enable them to do so independently if they are willing and able to. Consult their care plan for full detail on their needs and preferences for eating.

Pain management

Pain levels vary from person-to-person and some may not be able to communicate when they are in pain. Restlessness, social isolation, and avoidance are just a few examples of symptoms associated with pain. If you notice these, communicate with the individual to understand how they are feeling and, if necessary, try to reduce their pain by repositioning, massage and other non-pharmaceutical means. If this does not help and if available in their care plan, administer the appropriate medication. If pain medication is not prescribed, request a GP consultation.

Personal hygiene

A person’s appearance is integral to their self-respect and older people need to receive appropriate levels of support to maintain the standards they are used to.

Personal hygiene includes:

  • washing, bathing, showering
  • shaving
  • oral hygiene and denture care
  • haircare
  • body and facial hair removal
  • nail care, including chiropody and podiatry
  • using the toilet and continence needs
  • dressing and undressing
  • laundry.

Privacy

Privacy – the right to keep important parts of yourself to yourself – is essential in dignified care and it is supported by courtesy, the everyday practice of politeness.

As professional health and social care workers, it is our role to provide support, practical help, opportunities and advice to people in our care. Often, people in care have to depend on family or professional carers for intimate, personal care. This may be because of health needs, physical or cognitive disabilities. Despite this, nurses and carers must support the individual right to make decisions about what is unique about them: their thoughts, their identity, their relationships, their personal space and their body.

All care staff should understand how and when personal information should be accessed and shared. For example, if someone’s financial information or post needs to be accessed, this should be signed and dated so everything is above board.

Individuals are entitled to have intimate relationships and professional health and social care staff should work to support this safely. 

Social inclusion

Social inclusion is intertwined with quality of life and independence. Opportunities to participate, and make a positive contribution to community and society are integral to autonomy and therefore dignity. Talking to and encouraging service users to socialise, when they are happy to, is very important. Conversely, if they would like time alone, that should be respected too.

Are you a dignity in care champion? Then you sound like a great fit for us at Newcross Healthcare. Check out our job vacancies and apply online today.