A survey regarding the role of UK dietitians in spiritual care

Deborah Lycett, Stephen Garvey, Riya Patel

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AbstractBackgroundUsers of dietetic services have unmet spiritual needs, although no study has yet explored dietitians' opinion, perceptions or experience of assessing spiritual needs and delivering spiritual care in clinical practice.MethodsA cross‐sectional survey assessed the role of UK dietitians in spiritual care.ResultsThirty‐seven practicing dietitians, with experience ranging from newly qualified to over 21 years of practice, took part in the survey containing open and closed questions. Almost half (49%) of dietitians said they always conducted spiritual assessments and most (57%) said they sometimes made a referral for spiritual concerns. When spiritual issues arose, dietitians were highly likely to listen well (score 4.6 out of 5) and encourage service users in their own (the service user) spiritual or religious practices (score 4 out of 5). However, the likelihood of taking the initiative and enquiring about religious and spiritual issues was lower (score <3 out of 5) in all areas of practice including end of life care. This may have been because confidence around spiritual care was also low (score 4.7 out of 10), uncertainty was high (score >3.5 out of 5) and there was a strong desire to receive training (>4 out of 5). Qualitative responses expanded further on these results suggesting that there was positive “intention” to provide spiritual care, but lack of training was a significant barrier (qualitative theme: “inadequacies”). The recognition of necessity but uncertainty of how to meet spiritual needs was also shown through qualitative findings to be a source of “emotional labour”, particularly where there were conflicting beliefs between a dietitian and service user.ConclusionsAlthough limited by a small sample size, these results provide new knowledge that spiritual care is considered an important part of the dietitians' role and that this is the case regardless of the dietitians own spiritual identity or religion. Dietitians would value training in spiritual care so that they can support service user needs more readily and confidently.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)749-761
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number3
Early online date8 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2024

Bibliographical note

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, providedthe original work is properly cited.
© 2024 The Authors. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Dietetic Association.


  • dietetic practice
  • dietetics
  • mixed-methods
  • spiritual care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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