Spiritual support

Old Lady Bench

Spiritual needs can be an important part of a person’s journey at the end of life. Health and social care staff in all settings should be comfortable supporting these needs, and there are many ways to create a space for the person to express and explore what is happening to them at this time.

Sources of strength may be found in ceremony, ritual or cultural practices, or simply by having the opportunity to informally discuss the situation and help the person to work through feelings of distress, anxiety or regret.

This support should be extended to carers, family and friends who may find it difficult to come to terms with the person's diagnosis and as their illness progresses until their death. Bereavement services are an important part of helping the person to understand what's happened and in time to move on.

Unfortunately provision in this area is currently very patchy. This was acknowledged by the End of Life Care Strategy (2008) which said that further work was required to develop practice.

What we're doing

NCPC’s first step was to organise an initial conference called Finding The Missing Piece held in March 2010. The key themes highlighted by speakers and delegates at that conference were then published in The Missing Piece: Meeting People’s Spiritual Needs in End of Life Care. A second conference was held in October 2010 to explore the recommendations of the publication and identify examples of good practice.

Spiritual DocIn the document we discuss the concepts and language best used to describe people’s spiritual needs at this stage of life, and propose a working definition, based in part on the 2004 NICE guidance (see Chapter 7). The provision in various settings is discussed, along with the interplay between spiritual care ‘providers’ and other professionals, and the role each has to play. It is suggested that training and development is a key priority going forward; looking at models for delivery and draft quality markers that may help drive this.

NCPC and the Dying Matters coalition have set up a joint Meaning, Faith & Belief Group to further explore these ideas. More information on this group can be found here.


  • We asked members of our People Partnership steering group to act as reporters, asking friends and family "What does spiritual support mean to you?" Read some of the responses they received here.
  • Following an editorial in the British Humanist Association's newsletter, NCPC's Policy Lead Alice Fuller reflected on the needs of non-religious people approaching the end of life in our subscriber magazine Inside Palliative Care . Read it here.
  • The Department of Health draft quality markers for spiritual support have been published, adopting NCPC's definition. View them here.

This is an evolving part of NCPC's work and we are keen to hear your thoughts and examples of good practice - please contact us.

Share your story

A central part of NCPC's work is listening to what people with personal experience of palliative and end of life care have to say. Please help us by sharing your story.

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