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Hunt puts compassion at heart of nurse education review

Jeremy Hunt has indicated that compassion will be at the core of a national review of nursing education and training – leading some nurses to accuse him of missing the point on the issue.

As revealed by Nursing Times last week, a major review of pre- and post-registration training for nurses and midwives in England is to be carried out to improve standards of patient care.

The Shape of Caring review will be launched in May with a report expected early in 2015. Health Education England said it would look at improving education to “produce healthcare professionals of high calibre, who are able to meet the changing needs of patients and the broader population”.

“The NHS stands for compassionate care or it stands for nothing”

Jeremy Hunt

But the health secretary emphasised compassion and dignity as key focuses for the work when he subsequently announced the review via a story in the Daily Telegraph on 24 April.

Compassion is one of the key values – known as the “6Cs” – in the national nursing strategy for England. However, it has also become a political buzzword for Mr Hunt, who has referred to the theme frequently in his speeches on the NHS and nursing in particular.

He told the Telegraph: “The NHS stands for compassionate care or it stands for nothing – and we know that for many patients, compassionate nursing makes all the difference. The central lesson of the Francis report into the tragic events of Mid Staffs is the need to treat patients with respect and dignity.”

“Surprise, surprise, the spotlight will be on compassion”

Nurse blogger

However, Mr Hunt was criticised by a number nurses on social media site Twitter, who argued that insufficient resources and lack of staff were the real issues affecting whether nurses showed patients compassion and dignity.

Meanwhile, nursing blogger Grumbling Appendix stated: “Surprise, surprise, the spotlight will be on ‘compassion’ – even though there is no hard evidence that nurses as a group lack compassion and plenty of evidence that better educated nurses produce better patient outcomes.”

Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “The vast majority of nurses are highly caring and compassionate, upholding the traditions and values of profession, and putting patients first to provide the best possible care despite often difficult circumstances and overstretched resources.”

Peter Carter

He added: “Any drive to ensure the culture in all organisations in the NHS is one that puts patient care first is welcome. Nurse education and recruitment is just one aspect of this drive, along with strong leadership and the right numbers of staff in the right areas.”

The review will be led by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Willis of Knaresborough, who carried out a similar review for the RCN in 2012.

Lord Willis told the Telegraph the review would also focus on how to recruit older nurses. He said: “There has been an over-emphasis on 18 to 21-year-olds when actually what we need is more [of] a pathway for mature men and women with life experience, who can see nursing as a second career.”

Readers' comments (37)

  • michael stone

    It isn't possible to separate 'compassion in practice' from 'are there enough staff available' - as with almost everything, the actual questions tend to hinge on finding the correct 'balance points'.

    I wrote almost as soon as the Francis report was out, and the goverment started talking constantly about 'nurses and compassion', that people needed to stop the goverment from side-lining the 'do nurses have enough time to 'display' their desire to be compassionate' issue.

    I'm not sure about this goverment's overall record on 'conmpassion' in a wider-than-NHS sense, anyway.

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  • what does hunt know about compassion...he hates nurses and the nhs

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  • You can teach someone to measure a patients blood pressure or how to change a bed, but unfortunately you can't teach someone to be a nice, kind and compassionate person - that's in their nature.

    Thinking to myself the other day almost all of the nurses I'd want caring for me if I were unwell in hospital, don't have degrees - many don't yet have a diploma - yet their knowledge and skill is second none and they actually care about the patients in their charge.

    Almost every single nurse I work with (including myself) wouldn't meet the entry requirements to do their training I think that says a lot.

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  • Given the choice of somebody highly educated with compassion or poorly educated with compassion to care for my loved one ... I am sure I am not alone in desiring the educated. Working for and achieving a degree does not make a nurse less compassionate... just better at her job i.e. understanding medications, spotting early signs of deterioration and saving patients from the doctors :)

    There is a fantastic role for uneducated nurses and they are called HCA's - The hospital would grind to a halt without there amazing care but I can assure you just because they are uneducated does NOT make them all compassionate.

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  • My comment on "It isn't possible to separate 'compassion in practice' from 'are there enough staff available' " is that this is just not true.
    There are some nurses who show compassion and kindness regardless of how many staff and how busy they are.
    For instance last year I was with my Dad who is 96 in A&E. He went in after collapsing and unable to move. He waited 3 hours for an ambulance and was lying on his one leg bent up for quite a time. He was on a trolley in A&E for a considerable time - until 1 nurse - just one who was frantically busy as was everyone else but noticed that Dad was moving around a lot as had quite a severe sciatic type pain in his leg. I had also been asking 5 different staff including two doctors for some pain relief for my father.
    Without telling us she had noticed his discomfort and arranged for a ward bed to be brought down for him to make him more comfortable.
    I didn't see her again as she rushed off to deal with another major case but I asked her name and rang up the Director of Nursing after to praise her action.

    In answer to the other comment which saddens me "almost all of the nurses I'd want caring for me if I were unwell in hospital, don't have degrees - many don't yet have a diploma - yet their knowledge and skill is second none and they actually care about the patients in their charge."
    I would like to reply to this nurse that he/she should be evidence based in their practice and should know that although greater knowledge doesn't give compassion the research clearly shows that mortality rates are better when nurses have a better knowledge based. That is why the whole of the UK took the decision to educate all nurses to degree level in 2012.
    I disagree also what you say about 'almost every single nurse I work with wouldn't meet the entry requirements.......... You are a registered nurse now and who knows what you could have achieved in the past if the degree was offered then. I worked with trade unions and the RCN and we have supported loads of health care support workers to attain their pre nursing learning in order to start on a nurse degree programme.
    Your attitude is very disappointing as all patients deserve the highest level of knowledge and skill from all nurses.

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  • Different week, new spin from Mr Hunt. We're back to the narrative that poor care arises from nurses not caring enough. Last month, because it suited him, he said understaffing was the risk to care quality, and that nurses weren't worth a 1% pay rise because that would threaten the affordability of proper staffing levels.

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  • I want to know where on earth this idea that compassion was lacking in nurse education came from. The Francis Report says it bases it on anecdotal evidence from a seminar, but nothing in the public record of that seminar seems to substantiate the claims. Have we really come this far on pure supposition?

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  • Anonymous | 25-Apr-2014 1:14 pm

    You misunderstand: I'm talking about certificate RGN's and those of us who qualified with diplomas. I'm sorry, but those currently qualifying with BSc's may well be 'highly qualified' on paper, but are absolutely useless in practice.

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  • Compassion in general is lacking in our society, so it is a scientific probability that we will have a slice of people without compassion entering nursing, medicine or any other profession in the Health sector.
    Mr Hunt will have to get together a number of scientists to see whether they can build an equipment to be able to scan the applicant to find out if they are compassionate or not before they can enter.
    I feel though that this whole compassion thingh is a copout to blame us nurses for not giving enought care when really we need more staff and better management of staff.
    On our ward most of the nurses give free care every day as we always leave the job later than paid for.
    Free labour with no thanks, who's talking about compassion?

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 25-Apr-2014 1:16 pm

    'Without telling us she had noticed his discomfort and arranged for a ward bed to be brought down for him to make him more comfortable.'

    If the nurse couldn't bring down the bed herself, and there had been nobody else available to bring it, how would the bed have arrived ?

    'I asked her name and rang up the Director of Nursing after to praise her action.' - well done.

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  • To Anonymous | 25-Apr-2014 2:15 pm...

    Could I possibly ask what you have done to help the 'USELESS BSc Nurses' that you work with?


    K.Will

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  • To Anonymous | 25-Apr-2014 2:15 pm...

    Could I possibly ask what you have done to help the 'USELESS BSc Nurses' that you work with?


    K.Will

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  • I find it so disappointing that the old them and us culture between those with degrees and those without still exists. Every nurse has an obligation and duty to keep his or her knowledge and skills up to date however they undertook their nurse training. Is that easier for someone who has studied for a degree? I really do not know, however when nursing staff themselves show so little compassion and understanding for their colleagues it does make me question if they are in the right profession.

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  • "I'm sorry, but those currently qualifying with BSc's may well be 'highly qualified' on paper, but are absolutely useless in practice."

    What a ridiculous comment to make, you are ready to dismiss thousands of nurses just because they have a degree?
    There is plenty of research showing that better qualified nurses result in better patient outcomes. Every ward needs a good skill mix of nurses with different types of training and different backgrounds to bring something new to the balance.
    How ironic that you are labelling people as 'useless' on a discussion about compassion.

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  • I agree with the above Carol Ellison

    It makes me question how some colleagues pass nurse training with or without compassion, when their day seems to consist of undermining colleagues and at times able to reduce student nurses to tears.

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  • Anonymous | 25-Apr-2014 1:14 pm

    You mean well, but I am sure HCAs would not appreciate being referred to as uneducated nurses. many are highly educated in their own right and many nurses are surprisingly uneducated. please don't confuse the adjectives educated, trained and professionally qualified.

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  • Anonymous | 25-Apr-2014 2:15 pm

    how many BSc nurses are there? and does your comment generalise to every single one of them? are all of them useless or might there be some exceptions?

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  • Personally my concern is about nurses themselves being treated with compassion. All too often managers and admin departments turn a blind eye if nurses are struggling, have no qualms in piling on more work and being quite unpleasant in their manner if we dare to suggest we can't cope or that it's not a good idea. If you treat staff right they will treat the patients right, most nurses don't mind about being busy or working over for patient care but to be expected to mop up yet more beurocracy effectively in our own time does wear you down. Likewise poor planning in student placements and simply stuffing them anywhere they can hardly leads to a good learning environment.

    In terms of the trained/educated debate perhaps it's time we realised both are of equal importance and maybe nurse education should reflect that. At the end of the day you see what you want to see and what supports your idea but no matter which you favour everyone recognised good nursing.

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  • I agree with all the comments that commend the vast majority of nurses and their compassionate care.
    What I really find nauseating is the number of so-called professionals who jump on the bandwagon and start denigrating the very profession they purport to belong to. You ought to be struck off, never mind listened to, with your negative, stupid views. Of course the government will blame the nursing profession-we are the biggest and yet the lamest pussy-footing profession to walk the earth. We must NOT stand for this kind of uninformed rhetoric and tell the government (of whichever persuasion-they are all the same) that nurses are not the problem -government policies and constant penny-pinching are.

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  • Anonymous | 25-Apr-2014 7:37 pm

    you cannot strike people off just for expressing their opinion!

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