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Dignity in care

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Published: 7 August 2020

Lecturer in Health Care at the University of Sunderland in London Dr Rekha Elaswarapu


Dr Rekha Elaswarapu is a Lecturer in Health Care at the University of Sunderland in London and an expert on the subject of dignity - the practice of treating patients with respect and humanity. She gives an overview of the talk she recently presented.

“Last month I had the honour of representing the University of Sunderland in London at the Second Global Conference in Nursing and Healthcare as the keynote speaker on ‘Dignity in Care’.  

The event, originally meant to take place in Paris in March, became a webinar due to the COVID-19 crisis. As a passionate champion of dignity in healthcare and a trustee of the National Dignity Council, the subject is very close to my heart. 

My presentation looked at the idea of respect for patients. I discuss its impact on people who use and provide health services and how we can give people more dignity while they’re getting care. 

Dignity and respect should always be in our hearts and minds when we talk about care. This is particularly true for people who are vulnerable because of their physical or mental health.

Dignity is also a human right. It’s an essential part of every care professional’s work that they provide care with safety and respect at all times.

It‘s a complex idea, one which we see more when it doesn’t happen than we learn through definitions and theories. What it means to be treated with dignity can include:

  • Being spoken to appropriately
  • Having privacy
  • Consideration of personal appearance
  • Having access to a comfortable environment
  • Being autonomous and having the freedom to make informed choices
  • Enjoying social relationships

Dignity for staff 

Evidence suggests that if staff are treated with dignity, they, in turn, will treat people receiving care the same. Managers play an important role in promoting dignity, both for the service users and staff. 

A blame-free culture, good leadership, effective communication and a supportive environment are key ingredients for helping staff give excellent care. 

No professional starts out wanting to give care that isn't dignified care. But a lack of resources and an unsupportive workplace environment can lead to unintended compromises in dignity.

Dignity during COVID-19

There have been worries about a lack of resources which has unfairly impacted BAME communities. On top of that, some of the first global messaging and policy decisions led to poorer treatment for older people. 

Both of these issues have resulted in discrimination towards vulnerable groups in society. 

More positively, we have also seen some very interesting ways to provide dignity in care. Good examples include using digital technology to let families say goodbye to their dying relatives in hospitals or bringing residents and relatives together in care homes. 

Other forward-thinking methods have included community support for people who were shielding and check-up calls to avoid loneliness for those stuck at home.

Dignity as part of our daily lives 

It’s about treating each other as individuals worthy of respect. Dignity is everyone’s business and should be on our minds at all times.

“No one cares how much you know unless they know how much you care.” - Theodore Roosevelt

Let’s show that we care.”

Dr Elaswarapu teaches on the BSc (Hons) Health and Social Care Top-Up course at the University of Sunderland in London. To find out more about her work, visit her profile page. Dr Elaswarapu has published research on dignity and care in: 

  • Elaswarapu R. (2011) ‘Enhancing dignity in care: the role of management’, Nursing and residential care, Vol. 13 (12), December 2011, pp 610-612
  • Elaswarapu R. (2016) Dignity at work: Policies and legislative framework, Clinical Risk, 2016 Sage publications

To find this work and more, visit the Library website or contact them at

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