Culture, religion and patient care in a multi-ethnic society A handbook for professionals By Alix Henley and Judith Schott Age Concern Books 602 pages £19.99

Over the past 10 or 15 years, health practitioners have come to realise the importance of working with the patient. Patients must be consulted, their views sought and a genuine attempt made to understand their particular needs so they can be given the most appropriate treatment.

However, this can sometimes create real problems for people involved in healthcare - particularly when they are working with patients whose culture, beliefs and attitudes to medicine they do not understand.

Culture, Religion and Patient Care in a Multi-Ethnic Society helps identify individual needs and explores ways in which care can be adapted to meet them. It can be roughly divided into two parts. The first offers a theoretical overview - proposing ways in which we should view other cultures.

The second offers a potted guide to the major religions - identifying such things as dietary needs, funeral customs and family relations.

The book seems to be aimed primarily at nurses, but much of the information is extremely valuable for anyone working in health.

The first section is useful in getting people to see things from the patient's perspective.

For example, one of the more interesting exercises asks readers to imagine that they are in hospital in Somalia.

What would they need? The answer, of course, would not just be healthcare. They would also want familiar food, someone to talk to, books, visitors: things that might be hard to procure. People have particular needs when they are ill and want familiar things around them. In some cultures it is customary for large numbers of family members to gather around the sick person, while in others the sick person is avoided. Some cultures stress modesty: women are unwilling to be touched by a male doctor or nurse.

The book points out that clinicians should not make assumptions about the sick person, but should listen and respond positively to their needs. It also offers some good advice on not being too judgmental. A lot of clinicians express horror when presented with female circumcision - a practice that is illegal in this country. Expressions of outrage will only upset the patient - particularly because the procedure is irreversible and could well have been done against the patient's will.

Commissioning and the provision of services are also dealt with. A check-list is given for managers responsible for providing suitable foods, long gowns to preserve modesty, care plans and interpreters. For many managers, this section alone will be worth the price of the book.

The second section, which gives a brief description of individual cultures, covers most of the larger immigrant groups to be found in the UK.

Most of the advice is useful, but some is probably a bit impractical. For example, it suggests that because Chinese people often work in the catering trade, they will usually sleep late. So home visits should only be arranged between the hours of two and four in the afternoon.

But the book is generally well written, well presented and easily understood. It gives a clear account of other cultures and makes the point that in the health service if you treat people as individuals and try to understand their needs, you will be providing a better quality of care and ultimately do a better job.