NHS told to 'do God' to address needs of dying

New Nice guidelines say doctors should not be afraid to talk about personal beliefs

Elderly hands
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Healthcare workers looking after dying patients in their final days must ask them about their spiritual beliefs, according to new NHS advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

The guidance suggests "doctors must not be afraid to do God", reports the Daily Telegraph.

Officials say that in many cases patients don't want painkillers when they are dying, they want a priest, family member or even "their cat or dog by their bedside".

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"Control of pain and other distressing symptoms is very important for dying people, but good end of life care goes far beyond that," said Sam Ahmedzai, emeritus professor of palliative medicine and a specialist member of Nice's quality standard committee.

"It includes asking about the dying person's spiritual, cultural, religious and social preferences."

The institute says that three quarters of the 500,000 annual deaths in England are anticipated.

Nice also reminded health and care workers that terminal patients should have their hydration needs assessed daily.

"Under previous 'tick-box' rules, many thirsty patients were denied water and even treatment during their last days," says The Sun.

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of Nice, said: "We know the vast majority of people in this country receive very good care at the end of life, but this isn't always the case.

"Our guidance will support doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals so that they can work together to ensure that people die with dignity, whenever possible in the place of their choosing and with their symptoms effectively controlled."

The Church of England has welcomed the news. Reverend Dr Brendan McCarthy, its medical ethics adviser, said: "This guidance builds on Nice's 2011 recommendations for care at the end of life that highlighted the essential need for spiritual and religious care to be made available to all."

McCarthy said that it was "distressing" that "currently 85 per cent of patients in acute hospitals are not offered this care because their wishes are not sought."

The new Nice guidelines "underscore the vital role that chaplains play as part of a multi-disciplinary team in delivering holistic care at the end of life", he added.

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