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Communicating with angry patients and their families
  1. Elizabeth Taylor, Macmillan Information Facilitator
  1. Countess of Chester NHS Foundation Trust, Chester. Email: elizabeth.taylor{at}


Anger is recognised as a normal response to loss. However, nurses and other healthcare professionals are often surprised when a patient or carer is angry. Few people recognise that their anger is a response to what is happening to them. The anger may be directed towards something that has or has not happened or towards an individual in the form of a scapegoat. When working with patients and families at the end of life nurses should expect to deal with anger. This article examines possible causes of anger and ways in which it might be expressed. It challenges the nurse to see anger, in some circumstances, as an opportunity to develop a therapeutic relationship and not as a problem to be overcome or managed. It explores the use of active listening in enabling people to tell their stories in a way that can help them to acknowledge their emotions and concerns in a safe environment. A fictitious case scenario will illustrate how the themes of the article can be addressed practically by nurses. Conflicts of interest: none

  • Anger
  • Anticipatory grief
  • Communication skills
  • Emotions
  • Loss

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