Archbishop urges hospitals to adopt 'culture of compassion'

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The Independent Online

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales criticised the NHS for treating some patients with a lack of compassion.

Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said some hospitals saw the sick as "no more than a medical or behavioural problem to be tackled and resolved".

In a homily delivered at a Mass for the Sick at Westminster Cathedral, Archbishop Nichols quoted from the NHS Constitution which pledges to "respond with humanity and kindness to each person's pain, distress, anxiety or need".

He said while these were "splendid sentiments" suited to a mission statement for a pilgrimage to Lourdes, some hospitals failed to implement them.

He said: "Often they are fulfilled in NHS hospitals, for which so many are very grateful. But sometimes they are not, as some will know from personal experience.

"Where this happens it is not simply a matter of the attitudes of individual, though of course that is part of the story. It is also about the prevailing culture in an institution, the pressures of control and delivery which can impair and diminish the ability of staff to care properly."

He used yesterday's service to call for a "culture of compassion and healing" to be at the centre of healthcare and said the sick and dying should be given comfort instead of being treated as a burden.

He said: "A culture of true compassion and healing fosters a deep respect and attentive care of the whole person, it promotes genuine care characterised by a sense of humility, a profound respect for others, and a refusal to see them as no more than a medical or behavioural problem to be tackled and resolved.

"To care in this way is a gift of oneself to another. And, as with all true giving, the giver also receives."

Archbishop Nichols also said that campaigns for assisted suicide and euthanasia were the mark of a society that did not know how to deal with death.

He said: "In the care of the dying there is so much disquiet and dispute today: campaigns for assisted suicide and euthanasia; fears of unrelieved suffering and loss of control; fears of over-treatment - that is, of inappropriate aggressive medical interventions as life nears its end.

"Then there is the opposite fear of under-treatment or neglect - sometimes, for instance, food and water may be simply put in front of patients unable to feed themselves who are then noted as having refused their food."

He added: "We do not know how to deal with death. But fear cannot be our guide."