• dignity;
  • nurses;
  • nursing;
  • patient autonomy;
  • privacy

Aims and objectives.  To explore patients’ views regarding the factors that contribute to the maintenance of their dignity while in hospital, together with their perceptions of whether or not these were realised.

Background.  It has long been recognised that a consideration of patients’ dignity in the hospital setting is of paramount importance and its maintenance can contribute to the ‘emotional comfort’ that may assist recovery. There have been several attempts to define dignity as a theoretical concept, but few studies of the factors that contribute to its maintenance from the patients’ perspective.

Design.  A phenomenological hermeneutic approach was used.

Method.  Interviews were conducted with 102 patients in three hospitals in the UK over 18 months. The intention was to interpret what was being said and also the underlying meaning of how patients considered that their dignity was compromised.

Results.  The findings revealed that although many patients were satisfied with the maintenance of their dignity while in hospital, a significant number were not. Six key themes that contribute to the preservation of their dignity were identified – privacy; confidentiality; communication and the need for information; choice, control and involvement in care; respect and decency and forms of address. Patients provided details of their expectations with respect to these factors.

Conclusions.  Patients, irrespective of their situation and degree of health have their own expectations in relation to their dignity. These need to be assessed and matched by relevant nursing activities to assist recovery.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Nurses have an important role in meeting patients’ expectations of how they would like their dignity to be maintained. The identification of the most important factors that contribute to this from patients’ perspective will help develop dignified nursing practice.