Article Text

Should ward nurses hide death from other patients?
  1. Liz Bryan, Macmillan Lecturer
  1. King’s College London, Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, Specialist and Palliative Care Section. Email: liz.bryan{at}


In Western society, death and dying are generally viewed with anxiety and discomfort. This has created reluctance to speak about death, especially in hospitals, where the intention is to sustain life not facilitate death. The assumption is often made that patients prefer not to be exposed to the death of another patient and that they may even be traumatised by the experience. However, a literature review has revealed that there is little evidence to support this assumption and that lack of exposure to the reality of natural death may increase fear and anxiety. This article considers cultural attitudes towards death and the dying, explores whether nurses hide death from patients, and examines the possible effect on patients who witness death. Without conclusive evidence, definitive recommendations cannot be made. However, the author has made some suggestions for better and more thoughtful nursing practice. Declaration of interests: none

  • A ‘good’ death
  • Death awareness
  • Hiding death
  • Hospital nurses
  • Open communication
  • Witnessing death

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