NHS: Reducing the compassion deficit one heart at a time

Compassion is at the centre of nursing - and a caring relationship upholds the dignity of all involved

Share
Related Topics

I have reason to be very grateful to the National Health Service.

When I was thirteen years old I needed an operation that kept me in hospital for a couple of weeks.

The procedure was a success and the majority of the nurses who looked after me were kind and cheerful. That was helpful for an anxious teen not used to being away from home.

Nevertheless, there was a problem on the ward. One of the night nurses was, to put it politely, very brusque.  She had no patience with my discomfort and made that very clear. It left me feeling guilty for being in distress and disturbing her.

The word compassion doesn’t exactly sing in my heart when I think back on her.

Following the Mid Staffordshire NHS trust inquiry, there are probably many around the country recalling times when the NHS was not the dreamlike comforting machine vividly portrayed at the London Olympics. Whether we have struggled because a healthcare worker has not lived up to the “care” in that title or have watched loved ones suffer a lack of compassion, the memories can be very raw.

As the report by Robert Francis QC makes plain, such compassion deficits need to be fixed.

The Prime Minister picked up on that theme when responding to the report in Parliament. He said: “Nurses should be hired and promoted on the basis of having compassion as a vocation not just academic qualifications."

That’s easier said than done. How do you ensure someone expresses a quality of the heart?

Addressing journalists, health industry workers and European Union policy makers last week patient advocate Julie Birch spoke of suffering often excruciating pain for decades. Sadly her efforts to find the right medical help were marred by a significant lack of compassion on the part of both her gynaecologist and her GP. As the founder of the Pelvic Pain Network she’s calling for a patient-centred approach, including the need for empathy from everyone who works in health care.

During a Q&A session that concluded the European Voice sponsored panel she was on, I asked Birch if her call for empathy was aimed at individuals or whether she sought a more systematic approach to ensuring it as an NHS-wide ethos. With what seemed like regret, she said she couldn’t see a way to mandate empathy and compassion. It was up to each carer to be willing to listen, hear, understand and respond to each individual’s need.

A 2010 survey by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) found that over 95 per cent of nurses felt it was their job to identify the spiritual needs of patients. This resulted in the RCN producing a pocket guide explaining how the nurses could more compassionately address the patient’s spiritual needs and their own.

Some might say that's a nice thought, but point out that health care workers often lack the time to do the basics properly, let alone add something else.

But what if that "something else" is a benefit not a burden - a vital ingredient that helps these workers fulfil the highest sense of their calling by building on those basics and fully engaging with the patient?

Award-winning columnist Professor Stephen Wright, has devoted much of his life to practising and articulating what he regards as the core qualities of good nursing, regularly pointing out that a spiritual maturity in the nurse benefits their patients.

He told the Nursing Standard: "If nursing is anything it is an expression of heartfelt compassion for the wellbeing of another human being. It is heart-centred work."

Law needs to mandate and management needs to implement a framework in which compassion is rewarded. That is really important. But the individual call for compassion comes from a deeper place than even the best code of conduct.

Following that inner compass more consistently could elevate the hospital experience for both carer and patient. It not only places them in a relationship that uplifts and upholds the dignity of both, but perhaps points to a reform element needed not just in the NHS, but by society as a whole.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bill Cosby speaks onstage at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 25th Awards Gala on 11 November 2013 in Washington  

Bill Cosby: Isn’t it obvious why his accusers have stayed silent up until now?

Grace Dent
 

Our political landscape is not changing anywhere near as much as we assume it is

Steve Richards
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible