Care workers provide high-quality support to many people so that they can live fulfilled lives.

Specific knowledge and skills, of course, are needed to carry out this work, and at the heart of it is a commitment to ensure the dignity of those that they care for, and work with.

What is dignity in care?

Dignity is recognising and valuing every single person as a unique individual.

This means treating people fairly, and with compassion. It requires respect of other people’s views and choices, and a commitment to the belief that everyone has equal worth.

This includes respecting decisions about everyday care needs, such as personal hygiene, food choices, communication, social interaction, pain management, and moving and assistance.

Dignity in care also covers:

• Maintaining a person’s “privacy at all times, for example if the person is asleep or does not have capacity”.

• Ensuring that conversations about treatment are not conducted where they can be heard by others.

• Keeping in mind person-centred values, such as individuality, independence, privacy, partnership, choice, respect and rights.

• Making sure that “people using services should not have to share sleeping accommodation with others of the opposite sex, and should have access to segregated bathroom and toilet facilities without passing through opposite-sex areas to reach their own facilities.

Where appropriate, such as in mental health units, women should have access to women-only day spaces”. (Source: CQC website – https://www.cqc.org.uk/guidance-providers/regulations-enforcement/regulation-10-dignity-respect.)

Legislation and regulation

The Human Rights Act 1998 includes a number of human rights which protect the belief that everyone should be treated equally, and with dignity, regardless of their circumstances.

“A person should have the right to have access to public services and to be treated fairly by those services, respect for private and family life, and the right to liberty and security.” [Source: https://ccpdignity.co.uk/introduction/]

Regulation 10 of The Health and Social Care Act 2008 also highlights the need for people to have privacy when they need and want it, and to be provided with any support they may need to be autonomous, independent and involved in their local community.

The State of Care report is the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) yearly assessment of social care and health care in England.

The 2018 report found that people who had both mental and physical illnesses faced significant challenges because their needs were not often treated together.

Physical health services did not always consider people’s mental health needs. The report also observed that some staff lack the right skills to manage the complicated needs of those suffering from a mental health condition.

The mental health needs of patients should be identified on admission and staff should be proactive in safeguarding the patient’s privacy and dignity.

The seven principles of dignity

There are seven principles which provide a framework for care workers in the area of dignity. The principles highlight the importance of placing dignity at the heart of all care and support services.

They are applicable across all services, and provide good practice guidance. Of course, there is always more we can do, but having a framework to use is a good starting point.

• Principle one: See the unique characteristics in each person. When we are busy, it is hard to remember that every person who requires care is a unique individual with their own story and their own aspirations. Show you respect them with your words and actions.

• Principle two: Make it your responsibility to adapt care and support services to each person. Keep in mind their preferences; listen, understand and honour the person’s views and wishes, which will give them choice and control.

• Principle three: Communicate with people in the way they wish to communicate. How we talk and act towards people is a demonstration of our respect for their dignity. Their preference of communication should be taken into account.

• Principle four: Recognise that a person’s dignity may be impacted when they receive support for their personal care. You can help a person to feel as comfortable as possible, and recognise that personal care is a private activity, and something that they would probably rather be doing for themselves if they could.

• Principle five: Recognise that a person’s surroundings and environment contribute to their dignity. For example, when you are working in someone else’s personal space, you may need to move their belongings around to clean. Consider how you might feel if someone was doing this in your personal space. Explore with the person in question whether they are happy for you to move their possessions, which will demonstrate your commitment to their dignity.

• Principle six: Create a workplace culture that actively encourages dignity in care. Everyone is responsible for creating a positive environment at work. If you feel positive about what you are doing, you are more likely to respect those you work with, and therefore keep their dignity in mind.

• Principle seven: Understand that you may need to challenge a person that you care for, which may reduce their dignity. With difficult situations, it is important to identify what you can do to challenge others whilst maintaining your commitment to dignity.

The Care Quality Commission’s website has more information on dignity in care, and outlines the standards to which workers in health and social care need to adhere.

Dignity in Care training course

The above principles are explored further in Caring for Care’s Dignity in Care training course.

The course is aimed at anyone working with those that use health and social care.

It looks in more detail at person-centred care, best practice of communication, how to meet the CQC’s standards for dignity in care, and how to work with kindness and respect.

The course is delivered by practising healthcare professionals who understand the unique needs and challenges that you face. It can be delivered as a group or on-site training.

Taking all of the above information into account, it is clear that an understanding of dignity in care, and how it should be implemented into everyday life, is a skill from which everyone can benefit.

It underpins the approach to working with those individuals who use health and social care services, and is therefore a key priority for all in the workforce.

Photo: Health Care Workers by Government of Prince Edward Island licensed under Creative Commons 4.0