Sexuality, intimacy and palliative care

Friday, 01 September, 2017

Sexuality, intimacy and palliative care

While research has shown that patients in palliative care have unmet sexual and intimacy needs, they are usually not addressed.

A groundbreaking program at Sydney’s Neringah Hospital is now addressing this concern for people coming to the end of their life.

At Neringah, a 19-bed palliative care hospital, patients and staff are encouraged to normalise topics around sex and sexual desire. “Sexuality and dying are considered taboo subjects, and most people feel that people in this stage of their lives are too ill to think about sex,” said Brigitte Karle, clinical nurse educator with HammondCare.

“But our palliative care staff — and our patients — recognise that sexuality is part of the holistic care of patients, and this has resulted in the ‘Let’s Talk About It’ program.

“We need to make it easier for patients, their partners and staff to feel that they can have the conversation without being uncomfortable,” she said.

To facilitate the process, patients are advised that they can arrange for a particular sign to be affixed to their door that forbids entry for a certain period.

“Through our research we have identified that patients would like staff to initiate the conversation, and we have implemented a system where staff feel confident to recognise cues to take the appropriate action to provide ‘private couple time’.

“We also identified a need for staff to have additional training and education so they feel more comfortable about the issue.”

Karle said Neringah’s unique set-up, which includes private rooms, allowed patients to have intimate private relationships with their partners that might not be available in other hospitals.

“Regardless of the setting, it is important for all hospitals and staff working in subacute care to recognise that people who are in the last stage of their life may have sexual needs,” Karle said.

The Let’s Talk About It study was conducted over an eight-month period and involved training for staff and designing ways that patients and their partners could have private time.

Above: Brigitte Karle, clinical nurse educator with HammondCare.

Images credit: Neringah Hospital.

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