A study looking at a single question designed to help improve care for people with an illness that cannot be cured

Cancer type:

All cancer types





This study looked at how well a question worked in helping hospital health professionals look after people who need palliative care. It was called the Patient Dignity Question. 

Palliative care is care for patients whose illness cannot be cured. It includes control of pain and other symptoms, and help with psychological, social and spiritual problems.

More about this trial

Dignity in palliative care means helping the patient to: 

  • remain in control of their wishes
  • have a sense of belonging
  • be respected, valued and treated as an individual

Giving someone dignity is an important part of what makes palliative care work well.

To support health professionals in doing this, a question was developed to help them understand how best to look after someone who needs palliative care. 

It asked the patient “What do I need to know about you as a person to take the best care of you that I can?”. This is the Patient Dignity Question.

Researchers in this study tested this question. Staff at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee put this question to patients who needed palliative care. They also talked to patients about what they thought of the question and how useful it was. 

The aim of this study was to use this information to develop better services for people having palliative care in hospital.


Summary of results

The study team found the Patient Dignity Question improved how patients viewed their care in terms of empathy and whether they were at the centre of their care. For health professionals, it showed that it also improved the attitudes, care, respect, empathy and satisfaction in caring for the people.

This was a pilot study. 30 patients took part. They filled out 2 short questionnaires. 

The 1st questionnaire asked about the hospital environment and its focus on the patient. 

The 2nd questionnaire asked about their thoughts on the attitudes of the staff caring for them.

They were then ask “What do I need to know about you as a person to take the best care of you that I can?” (Patient Dignity Question). Their response was kept in their nursing notes. 

Two days later they filled out the same 2 questionnaires again.

Answers from the 1st questionnaire showed more patients thought:

  • the staff were easy to talk to 
  • they had something nice to look at
  • that everyday things were talked about rather than just their illness
  • they could get that ‘little bit extra’
  • they could rely on getting the best care
  • they were in safe hands

Things that patients thought weren’t as good included feeling that the staff:

  • took notice of what they said
  • made that little extra effort on their behalf

Answers form the 2nd questionnaire showed more patients thought better about how the staff:

  • helped them to take control
  • were interested in them as a whole person
  • were being positive
  • were including them in making a plan of action

One thing most patients felt was not as good was about staff explaining things clearly. 

Results of feedback survey

The team asked patients what they thought about the Patient Dignity Question. Of the 30 patients:

  • everyone said the Patient Dignity Question was accurate
  • everyone said it could be put in their charts
  • 10 patients wanted a copy
  • 25 patients thought it was important information for the staff
  • 19 patients thought it would affect the way staff cared for them
  • 28 patients would recommend that others do it

They also asked 17 staff members to give feedback. The majority said that the Patient Dignity Question had a positive impact on the care they gave. 

The study team concluded the Patient Dignity Questionnaire: 

  • could improve patients’ views on care
  • could change the attitudes of health care staff
  • is seen as a positive thing by patients and staff
  • could be included into the care of those who need palliative care

They said that further research into using the Patient Dignity Question across a wider range of settings would be beneficial.  

We have based this summary on information from the research team. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team who did the research. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Professor Bridget Johnston

Supported by

Macmillan Cancer Support
NHS Tayside
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer
University of Dundee

If you have questions about the trial please contact our cancer information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Around 1 in 5 people take part in clinical trials

3 phases of trials

Around 1 in 5 people diagnosed with cancer in the UK take part in a clinical trial.

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