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Compassion affected by 'draining' nature of nursing, CNO tells MPs


It is difficult for nurses to remain “compassionate all the time” given the emotionally draining nature of the job, the chief nursing officer for England has told MPs.

NHS Commissioning Board CNO Jane Cummings gave evidence last week to the Commons health select committee on the state of nursing.

Along with Department of Health director of nursing Professor Viv Bennett, she fielded a broad range of questions from MPs on staffing levels, patient safety, use of technology and the “6Cs” nursing strategy.  

Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, asked whether there a “conflict” between two of the 6Cs – competence and compassion. He suggested that “sometimes in order to be professional you need to be dispassionate”.

But Ms Cummings said: “You can be a highly competent, experienced, professional nurse and still be compassionate.”

“Nursing is a very emotionally draining job, it’s hard work; it’s physically hard; it’s emotionally hard,” she said. “There is something about how we look after staff and how we give them the time and the space when necessary to take a step back and have a bit of breathing space.”

Ms Cummings highlighted that when nurses were very busy “day-in day-out” dealing with very complex tasks “it can be quite difficult to remain compassionate all the time”.

Her comments follow concerns raised repeatedly in the media that the increasingly professional nature of registered nursing had in some way detracted from its compassionate side.  

Representatives from the Patients Association and Age UK also gave evidence to the committee and appeared to agree with Ms Cummings.  

Joanna Parker, South West project manager for the Patients Association, said: “Nursing is not a simple set of tasks, its’ far more complex than that and can be emotionally draining.

“Those staff need to be cared for as well and I think there are organisational issues, cultural issues that need to be addressed to support nursing staff.”


Readers' comments (48)

  • Hopefully this will raise the Health + Well-being focus to look after all nursing staff. Being pushed to the limits, having to prioritise, juggling conflicting demands + interruptions is challenging and something will be easily missed.

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  • Sandra Joyce Powell

    I believe we should return to nurse training in our hospitals and leave the education era nurses need training .they should also pay student nurses a living wage . Re -open schools of nursing attached to our General hospitals. compassion is a two way street our nurses do not recieve compassion from the managment ,they are on their own if they make a mistake. they should be supported be a true member of a multidisiplinary team, working for the good of the patients.

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  • to have the ability to care for others with compassion, don't you need to also be treated with compassion? Maybe it just doesn't only work effectively one way.

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  • Mo Lloyd

    Being compassionate includes having the knowledge and experience to understand the other person. Education and time is what nurses need to help them do that and not being ignored as simply a 'pair of hands' is a good place to start.

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  • And this government want nurses to work into their 70's?!

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  • Anonymous | 28-Jan-2013 1:44 pm

    perhaps we should extend our compassion and the six 'C's to the politicians, and managers while we are at it and see if we can change that.

    To be more accurate I think it was the late 60s although many may need to carry on to make ends meet.

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  • I have been a compassionate nurse for 35 years and have finally succummed to anti depressants, due to the fact I am sick of telling managers how short staffed, overworked and undervalued we are. It is so frustrating and draining.

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  • There have been warning signs in the last decade ie:ukcc changing to the nmc, staffing levels - which is the first indication of financial trouble for the nhs. I qualified 10 yrs ago and year by year its got worse. Gradually the culture, morale etc gets you down. I am shocked and disappointed that as time passes with these issues compassion in some instances has gone. There are also some people who enter nursing for the wrong reasons and their background is overlooked by the universities or employer. At this moment I know of some new starters at university as it was discussed in my local corner shop in the queue. One whom has a mother who is a smack head, the girl regularly gets into brawls, wears her uniform in public despite novovirus and flu outbreaks and as loud as day boasts " yeah I started me training, its boss apart from the 12 hr shifts". I know if I was a member of public I wouldnt want a chav or scally looking after my relative. Im classed by some students now as being 'old school' and I don't care what they think because I know the training that I recieved 10 years ago was far better than it id today, mentors had time for their students to educate, the sisters facilitated 50% of that education on placement. We were moulded and manufacturerd into the professionals that rightfully earned the honour to have a pin number.

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  • why didn't she say this before 46m quid was spent on such initiatives as the 6c. That money could have helped employ nurses so that we could do our jobs properly.

    Is it time that the govt stopped introducing 'initiatives' and paying management consultants to tell us what we already know.

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  • Am I the only person who says this is a bit much? I have been nursing for over 30 years and still manage to be compassionate.. (I am told this by patients I care for and the patient feedback, so don't shout me down.) As professionals we should be able to be compassionate for people even if the organisation seems to be less than compassionate themselves. We should lead by example. Compassion is inate although can also be learnt so I agree in having good training and more ward based. However, compassion should be part of human nature. Some people have more, some less and some lack it anyway. I need to read all of the CNO's comments to find out why she thinks this. I can say that I am tired, angry and weary of the bureacracy and the endless loop of 'improvement measures 'that are revamping things that previous governments 'broke' when not broken in the first place. I am angry about all the NHS terms and conditions being stripped from hard working and dedicated NHS staff. Yes, those things but I do not lack the compassion required to be a good nurse. The patients are the saving grace in our jobs. Surely that is why we nurse in the first place? We should not EVER take our frustrations out on the patients and lack the compassion they deserve.

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