Aim. To study relatives’ views on how the integrity of older patients is maintained in long-term institutions in Finland.
Background. Maintaining patient integrity is considered a key prerequisite for good quality care and treatment and a characteristic of ethical care. Institutionalization, dependence on others and vulnerability may all threaten the integrity of the older patient and, in this sense, pose ethical problems.
Design/methods. The data for this descriptive and explorative survey were collected by questionnaires from 213 relatives of older patients in four long-term institutions in Finland. The response rate was 78%. Data were analysed using statistical methods.
Results. Relatives rated the maintenance of patient integrity quite highly. The highest ratings were recorded for the maintenance of physical integrity and the lowest to the maintenance of psychological integrity. The main source of problems were patients’ and/or relatives’ wishes concerning elimination. There were also shortcomings in the provision of intimacy. Relatives who thought that admission to the long-term institution had been problematic, either for the patient or for themselves, felt that patient integrity was poorly maintained.
Conclusion. The findings highlight the importance of nurses’ efforts in long-term care facilities to preserve the integrity of patients and to maintain close contact and cooperation with relatives. Although relatives generally were quite pleased with how patient integrity was maintained, the results also provide evidence on problems that may threaten patient integrity.
Relevance to clinical practice. Greater emphasis should be placed on the need for cooperation between older patients, their relatives and nursing staff, especially before admission to long-term care. Furthermore, increased efforts are needed in maintaining the integrity of older patients and in reducing ethically problematic situations.