Sexuality, Intimacy and Palliative Care

A ground breaking program at Neringah Hospital (Wahroonga) is meeting the sexual and intimacy needs of people coming to the end of their life.

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

At Neringah Hospital, patients can arrange for a particular sign to be affixed to their door that forbids entry for a certain period.

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

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

Neringah Hospital Inpatient unit provides short term acute care to patients managing a life limiting illness and is not a long stay facility. The unit provides palliative care for:

  • short term admission to alleviate symptoms and the distress they cause
  • holistic care to meet the special needs of patients in the final stages of their illness

The hospital has 13 single beds and three double rooms. The study, Let’s Talk About It, was conducted over an eight month period and involved training for staff and designing ways that patients and their partners could have private time.

Brigitte Karle, Clinical Nurse Educator with HammondCare 

Media Inquiries: For more information, please contact HammondCare: Nikki Cripps at ncripps@hammond.com.au or on 02 9268 6758.

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