Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The meaning and importance of dignified care: findings from a survey of health and social care professionals

Deborah Cairns1*, Veronika Williams2, Christina Victor1, Sally Richards3, Andreé Le May4, Wendy Martin1 and David Oliver5

Author Affiliations

1 School of Health Sciences and Social Care, Brunel University, Mary Seacole Building, Uxbridge UB8 3PH, UK

2 Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Primary Care Clinical Trials Unit, Oxford, UK

3 Department of Psychology, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK

4 University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

5 City University School of Community and Health Sciences, Oxford, UK

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BMC Geriatrics 2013, 13:28  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-13-28

Published: 22 March 2013



There are well established national and local policies championing the need to provide dignity in care for older people. We have evidence as to what older people and their relatives understand by the term ‘dignified care’ but less insight into the perspectives of staff regarding their understanding of this key policy objective.


A survey of health and social care professionals across four NHS Trusts in England to investigate how dignified care for older people is understood and delivered. We received 192 questionnaires of the 650 distributed.


Health and social care professionals described the meaning of dignified care in terms of their relationships with patients: ‘respect’ (47%), ‘being treated as an individual’ (40%), ‘being involved in decision making’ (26%) and ‘privacy’ (24%). ‘Being treated as an individual’ and ‘maintaining privacy’ were ranked as the most important components of dignified care. Physical caring tasks such as ‘helping with washing, dressing and feeding’ were rarely described as being part of dignified care and attributed much less importance than the relational components.


Dignity in care is a concept with multiple meanings. Older people and their relatives focus upon the importance of providing physical care when describing what this means to them. Our participants focussed upon the relational aspects of care delivery rather than care itself. Proactive measures are therefore required to ensure that the physical aspects of care are met for all older people receiving care in NHS trusts.

Dignity; Health care professionals; Social care professionals; Nursing; Older people; Ageing; Care; Hands on care