What does dignity mean to you? We’re probably used to the phrase ‘I lost my dignity a bit last night’ after one too many adult beverages, or when faced with someone of questionable character who is goading you into losing your temper, and you choose to ‘keep your dignity intact’. But what does dignity mean when we’re talking about patient care? And more importantly, why does it matter? When you’re being treated in a medical setting, you can be asked to undress, you can be examined, and you can have intimate and non-intimate samples taken, to name but a few. You’re also asked to tell a complete stranger about how much you drink, if you smoke, take recreational drugs, when you last had sex and how you did it, and about the last time you went to the toilet: usually in hospitals, there’s just a curtain separating your conversation from plenty of curious ears in the bed next to you. Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, you’re asked to undress and wear a hospital gown with two strategic tie-fastenings at the back which may or may not cover your bum from the hospital draught. It’s a unique experience, which depending on how you’re treated by a healthcare professional, can either comfort you or can completely diminish your trust in the healthcare system.
Dignity is enshrined in codes of conduct for both doctors and nurses by the General Medical Council (‘GMC’) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (‘NMC’) in the UK. According to the GMC’s Good medical practice, ‘Good doctors work in partnership with patients and respect their rights to privacy and dignity’ and similarly, nurses must ‘Treat people as individuals and uphold their dignity’ (NMC’s Code of Professional standards of practice and behaviour’).
Often, our best experiences with a doctor or a nurse are down to the way they deal with us as a person. Not as one of a number of patients they need to care for, but someone who has insecurities or concerns about their treatment, and is given the time and attention they need to feel comfortable. In the NHS with nurse and doctor shortages, a lack of beds, and varying levels of support from management, this can be difficult. Attitude is everything: if we feel listened to, we feel important, and we feel like we’ve been treated with dignity.
But dignity isn’t just about the treatment we receive at the hands of healthcare professionals; it’s also about the overall patient experience. At Vernacare, dignity for patients is at the centre of our design process. We work closely with healthcare professionals and their employers to support them in the work they do, and to supply products that maximise the patient experience, whilst minimising the risk of cross-infection. You probably dedicate little thought to what you’d do if you were in a hospital bed and unable to get to the toilet because of an injury or because you’re really unwell. Given the option of using a plastic bedpan that has been washed and re-used by countless other patients, or a Vernacare single-use unit that’s never been used by anyone else, which would you prefer? You could literally eat your cereal out of one of our bowls. Our single-use products are easy to use, can be easily positioned underneath a patient, or in the case of the VernaFem (our female urinal), ergonomically fits the female form. We understand that when you’re in hospital, it’s highly likely you don’t want to be there and our products have been created with patient comfort firmly in mind.
Dignity isn’t just limited to healthcare settings. If you think about the people we come into contact with every day; maybe the elderly lady on the bus who strikes up a conversation, or a mum that needs help with her pushchair, we can all do our bit to treat other people better. A bit of understanding goes a long way in ensuring we all get treated with the dignity we deserve.