Abstract – Nurses’ impoliteness as an impediment to patients’ rights in selected Kenyan hospitals

Benson Oduor Ojwang, Emily Atieno Ogutu, and Peter Maina Matu

Health and Human Rights 12/2

Published December 2010


The institutionalization of patients’ rights is a recent phenomenon in Kenya. In 2006, Kenya’s Ministry of Health initiated policy measures to improve patient satisfaction through a charter of patients’ rights. The aim was to change the longstanding public perception that nurses in public hospitals routinely ignored patients’ right to respectful treatment. This paper focuses on linguistic indicators of violation or promotion of patients’ rights in the health care context. We examine the extent to which patients’ rights to dignity, respect, and humaneness are observed or denied, and we argue that impolite utterances impede rather than promote the realization of other fundamental human rights. It appears that nurses’ impoliteness does not merely constitute rudeness, but encodes a violation of dignity which, in turn, hampers the chances of enjoyment of broader human rights such as the right to autonomy, free expression, self-determination, information, personalized attention, and non-discrimination. We argue that, for patients to enjoy their rights in the hospital setting, a clear definition of roles and relationships and public education on strategies of asserting their rights without intimidation are necessary. It emerges that when patients’ rights are denied, patients resort to retaliation by violating the dignity of the nurses. This jeopardizes the envisaged mutual support in the nurse-patient relationship and compromises patient satisfaction.