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.”