Hospitals Respecting Faith

Being in a hospital is a time when we are the most vulnerable....

Hospitals Respecting Faith

Being in a hospital is a time when we are the most vulnerable. We can find ourselves away from people who care about us and understand our values and beliefs.  Sometimes those values and beliefs can differ from the mainstream. 

Although as humans we are essentially a uniform species, we all have different upbringings, influences and dependencies.  In fact, many ethnic groups strongly align themselves to a faith which provides comfort and support to them during difficult times.  

People follow their faiths to various degrees, with some taking a more orthodox approach while others only turn to their faith during major life events such as birth, death and marriage.   People for whom their faith infuses their entire lives and who have a daily spiritual routine have made a strong commitment to God.  These people make a public commitment to follow guidelines which will lead them to following a path to the Creator and serving the greater good. 

As people who follow a spiritual path in our lives, our expectations are different from the mainstream. For example, some Sikhs will carry the five symbols of faith at all times, including uncut hair. Muslims and Jews have strict dietary requirements which are an essential way of life for practising their faith. Many orthodox Hindus will have a strict vegetarian diet to show respect for all living beings.

 These may seem like unnecessary rituals to some, but for a person of faith who is at our most vulnerable in hospital it allows us to feel more connected and gives us the strength to overcome challenges and accept outcomes according to our beliefs.  Respecting patients' faith is also part of the healing process for both patients and families, particularly in palliative care.

For Sikhs keeping our hair gives us a feeling of being ‘connected’ to our faith and it gives us strength when we are feeling weak.   When we have these connections to our faith are taken away from us we feel a sudden sense of loss.

For example, an elderly Sikh man was taken to hospital and every single day his wife came to hospital to see him and take care of him. She washed him, cooked food for him and fed him.  One day she arrived late, only to find that the staff had cut his beard, without the family's permission.  When the family asked the reason for cutting his hair, hospital staff replied it was so that he could eat properly as they assumed that his beard was getting in the way of eating.  He was a practising Sikh who had lived a life of quiet prayer and devotion and strict adherence to his faith, including never cutting his hair or beard.

Sikhs believe in a cycle of life and our actions will determine our progression in the next.  What is most important for the patient as they near end of life is that they approach and join in union with the Creator whilst showing the same commitment and devotion that they did throughout their life.

Patient-centred care can be problematic if we cannot empathise, understand or relate to patients because our respective lives are so visibly different. Caring for patients isn't simply a matter of providing food, accommodation, expert healthcare advice and medication.  Caring for patients should include respecting their beliefs and faith.  Surinder Sharma  in the report ‘Religion or Belief – A Practical Guide for the NHS’  says:

‘…attention to the religious and cultural needs of patients and service users can contribute to their wellbeing and, for instance, reduce their length of stay in hospital

Isn’t it time that all healthcare professionals are provided with compulsive, practical training regarding the requirements for treating and caring for people of different religions and beliefs?

Add a Comment