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What do doctors understand by spiritual health? A survey of UK general practitioners

Lookup NU author(s): Emerita Professor Carol Jagger, Professor Barbara Hanratty



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2021 BMJ Publishing Group. All rights reserved.Background In the UK, doctors' regulatory and professional bodies require general practitioners (GPs) to consider discussing spiritual health as part of the consultation. However, spiritual health is not defined in guidance, and it is unknown what individual doctors understand by the term. Research question What do GPs understand by the term a € spiritual health'? Aim To explore how GPs understand and define spiritual health. Design and setting Survey of GPs in England 9 April 2019-21 May 2019. Method A mixed-methods online survey asked practising GPs in England qualitative free text questions - a € What does the term a € Spiritual Health' mean to you?' and a € Any comments?' after five vignettes about discussing spiritual health with patients. These were subject to thematic analysis using a priori themes from the literature on GP definitions of spiritual health, and on attitudes towards the topic. Participants 177 practising GPs in England. Results 177 GPs responded to the survey. Understanding of spiritual health fitted into three themes: self-actualisation and meaning, transcendence and relationships beyond the self, and expressions of spirituality. A full range of views were expressed, from a minority who challenged their role in spiritual health, through to others enthusiastic about its place in healthcare. Conclusion Spirituality and religiosity are understood by English GPs to be distinct concepts. A consensus definition of spiritual health incorporating the themes identified by working doctors, may be helpful to support GPs to follow the recommended guidance in their practice.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Whitehead O, Jagger C, Hanratty B

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: BMJ Open

Year: 2021

Volume: 11

Issue: 8

Print publication date: 11/08/2021

Online publication date: 11/08/2021

Acceptance date: 12/07/2021

ISSN (electronic): 2044-6055

Publisher: BMJ Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-045110