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8 Assessing spiritual needs in a hospice setting: all talk and no trousers
  1. Victoria Bradley,
  2. Jessica Gutjahr,
  3. Katherine Young and
  4. Rhys Dawe
  1. Health Education Thames Valley, UK


Introduction The rhetoric of Palliative Care encompasses physical, psychological, social and spiritual domains.1 However, this last element is often the most contentious in both definition and application2–4 and has often been neglected in practice to the detriment of patient quality of life.5–7

Aim Despite evidence that significant numbers of patients wish to discuss spirituality with their healthcare team,8–10 and a corporate commitment to spiritual care11 an audit of practice locally demonstrated the majority did not have assessment of spiritual need on admission to the hospice.12 This study aimed to understand this low enquiry rate by exploring potential barriers to a health care worker undertaking spiritual assessment.

Method Five focus groups were conducted and recorded over 5 months – 2 with nursing staff, 2 with junior doctors and 1 with senior management. The audio records were transcribed verbatim and subject to thematic analysis.

Results This study suggests four over-arching themes obstructing spiritual assessment:

• lack of understanding of concepts of spirituality

• dissonance of spiritual issues with healthcare culture

• social discomfort with the concept of spirituality

• personal discomfort with the topic of spirituality

Conclusion This study supports and expands on the published literature,13,14 and attempts to create a taxonomy of obstacles to spiritual assessment and care. Recognition of and education around these themes has been undertaken in an attempt to improve rates of spiritual assessment on admission, but re-audit has yet to show any positive improvement.15 Effecting change in spiritual assessment and care to meet the rhetoric remains a challenge.


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  11. . Sir Michael Sobell House Hospice [Internet] 2017 [cited 1st March 2017]. Available from:

  12. . Bradley V, Young K, Dawe R. Audit of Documentation to establish rates of spiritual assessment of patients on admission to Sir Michael Sobell House Hospice 2015.

  13. . Balboni MJ, Sullivan A, Enzinger AC, Epstein-Peterson ZD, Tseng YD, Mitchell C, et al. Nurse and physician barriers to spiritual care provision at the end of life. J Pain Symptom Manage 2014;48(3):400–10.

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  15. . Bradley V, Gutjahr J. Re-Audit of Documentation to establish rates of spiritual assessment of patients on admission to Sir Michael Sobell House Hospice 2016.

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