An emphasis on compassion could actually be dangerous to the NHS, according to a medical ethics expert.
Following the Francis Report into failings at Mid-Staffordshire Foundation Trust, the Prime Minister called for nurses to be hired and promoted on the basis of having compassion, not just academic qualifications.
But Dr Anna Smajdor, from Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia, believes compassion is not necessarily the key to solving the NHS’s problems - especially if it is to the detriment of other important duties.
“If Cameron’s ideas come to fruition, the compassion served up by healthcare professionals will be at best inauthentic and at worst dangerous,” she said.
“Healthcare professionals are responsible for many individuals, working to fulfil many tasks as efficiently as possible - often in situations where time and resources are limited. It would be very dangerous to rely on compassion as the motivation that ensures the necessary tasks are carried out.
“Reminders, routines and checklists ensure that crucial tasks are undertaken. But if hospitals are fundamentally under-resourced, they will fail to deliver the care that is required.”
Dr Smajdor’s paper, which will be published in the journal Clinical Ethics on September 19, describes how the problems at Staffordshire were systemic throughout the entire institution and its culture. But she said it would be “bizarre” if that particular hospital had been staffed entirely by individuals who lacked compassion.
In many ways it can actually be harmful for healthcare professionals to feel too much compassion, she concluded, because they may become deeply distressed by some of the things they witness, and are at risk of suffering burnout and fatigue, as well as becoming de-sensitised and damaged.
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