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Keywords:

  • ethics;
  • older people;
  • integrity;
  • long-term care

Aim:  This article reports on a study into nurses’ perceptions of how the integrity of older patients is maintained in long-term care institutions in Finland.

Background:  Patient integrity is an important aspect of ethical decision-making in nursing care and respect for integrity is central to good care. Problems may occur in the maintenance of older patients’ integrity because of reduced communication skills and decision-making authority. Data collection was by means of a purpose-designed structured questionnaire in a sample of 222 nurses from four purposively selected long-term institutions in 2004. The response rate was 74%. The questionnaire consisted of a background data sheet and integrity items in three categories: psychological, physical and social integrity.

Results:  The nurses gave the highest ratings for the maintenance of physical integrity, particularly for respectful and gentle touching. Nonetheless, according to nurses patients were often tied to their bed or chair. The second highest ratings were give to the maintenance of social integrity. Most nurses felt that the patients had good contact with the outside world, mainly family members. On the other hand loneliness was a more common problem for older people in institutions. The maintenance of psychological integrity received the lowest rating. Satisfaction with the job and with the quality of service provided correlated positively with the nurses’ views on the maintenance of patient integrity.

Conclusion:  Nurses take the view that patient integrity is maintained reasonably well in long-term institutions. There are, however, some problematic areas that require special attention, particularly in the maintenance of psychological integrity. Future research needs to look at how patients and their relatives view the situation and to explore different training delivery options that can help raise the ethical quality of nursing care.