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'How about showing nurses compassion?'

So the message that’s been heard loud and clear since the Francis report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust is that nurses lack compassion. Indeed, a much-covered part of the government’s Francis response was to insist prospective nurses spend a year working as healthcare assistants before starting degrees.

This suggested they would otherwise miss out on learning how to spend time with patients.

Well this week sees the publication of Unison’s annual nursing survey, and it indicates that many qualified nurses aren’t familiar with spending time with patients - because they are so under-resourced that they don’t have enough time to do so.

The survey (see page 2) was a snapshot of NHS staffing on 4 March 2014. It wasn’t a Monday, when staff play catch-up dealing with weekend admissions, and there were no extraordinary problems affecting the service. Yet despite this, 51% of just under 3,000 respondents working that day told the union they did not have enough staff to provide dignified, compassionate care.

And how’s this for compassion? The nurses told Unison they were collectively working countless hours of unpaid overtime that day. Half said they worked through their breaks and after their shift had finished. Despite that, 66% still said they didn’t have enough time with patients, and of those 55% said they left care undone.

Nurses are expected to continue providing compassionate care, but they are forced to work under extremely stressful conditions and are constantly under-resourced

Worryingly, nearly half the respondents (48%) feared their trust was so under-resourced that it could be another Mid Staffs.

More worrying still is that just over half (51%) were not confident about raising concerns. In a post-Francis era, when the importance of listening to staff has been demonstrated all too clearly, this is shocking. Unfortunately, it’s typical of what our Speak Out Safely campaign has shown. Only one in four acute trusts have so far pledged their commitment to supporting staff who raise concerns.

The Unison survey also mirrors the staffing survey Nursing Times carried out a year after the Francis report in February. In this survey of 526 nurses, 33% felt staffing levels had deteriorated in the past year - and over half felt their ward was dangerously understaffed.

Nurses are expected to continue providing compassionate care, but no one offers them any degree of compassion. Many of them are continually forced to work under extremely stressful conditions and are constantly under-resourced.

If policy makers really want care to be uniformly excellent, it’s time to think about the nurses providing it. And instead of looking for ways to pass the buck to nurses, it’s time to find ways of enabling them to provide the care that Unison’s survey confirms they so dearly want to.

Jenni Middleton, editor Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed

Readers' comments (13)

  • well said

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  • Interestingly I have sent in my finished article for publication to Nursing Times this week, for a furthur issue, and the final sentence I wrote was
    `Wheres the Compassion for Nurses?`

    Ironic that we are starting to use the same argument.

    Let`s use it is our collective Mantra.
    Well said.

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  • Excellent article..
    Thank you

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  • Nursing is fast become a profession in which you fit the actual nursing care around the assessments,paper work what ever you like to call it. Clinic admin is overtaking patient care. I rarely have a lunch break but I refuse to work past 5 o'clock. Many of my colleagues take work home to do at the weekend. I try to tell them not to but to no avail. It has to be done they tell me. I reply with "what's the worse they can do to you" someone has to make a stand? Are they going to sack you suspend you? I can see the headlines "Nurse is sacked / suspended for refusing to do unpaid overtime / weekend work". I think not.
    Excellent article as others have said

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  • would it not be an effective (? or even more effective) alternative to striking that everybody just work their allotted hours and not work extra to do this paperwork. the gaps would then become very quickly visible to employers, managers and the public. It could be tried out initially for as little as one day and increased until the message really got across and some action was taken.

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  • totally agree anon 4:22 been saying this for a long time

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  • Anonymous | 19-Apr-2014 12:11 pm

    sadly, but true!

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  • Excellent article.
    Firstly I find it sad that we feel we have to put our comments on Anonymously as many of us fear repercussions if we speak out.
    I once put the question to the head of our board as to how he felt that I, as a Band 7, worked most weeks approx 4-5 hours of my own time as free overtime to the NHS Trust. His reply - "As a higher band, we can expect to work beyond the call of duty". I was left speechless!
    Nurses are a large body often with a small voice. The more we do the more is expected of us.

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  • I think this govt just laughs at us behind closed doors. After all what group calling themselves "professionals" would tolerate the insulting pay and the way that the NMC can and will haul you before the NMC gallows on a whim !!
    Bankers and solicitors etc wouldnt tolerate it ! I once had to employ a solicitor and when asking him a question one day he hastened to remind me that the call was costing me big time, as I found out soon enough afterwards !! He didnt accomplish much for me at all but after just a few emails to him and a few calls , hey presto he had just "earned" himself a couple of thousand pounds !! Nice work eh !
    Time to wake up nurses or start digging an early grave !! There wont be a pension from the NHS its going private ..the govt cant afford it they say !!
    Nursing dosnt worry me but the people running it sure do !!

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  • Unfortunately the actual people who do the hands on caring are blamed for the lack of investment in the NHS there is an attitude/lack of care from the senior management and the Government.

    The main cause of problems which the nursing staff have to solve is poor management from the top.

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  • Across publications I see a lack of shared understanding of the word compassion and of caring. Compassion seems to be confused with kindness and working long hours because of a deep interest in the patient and getting the job done. Caring similarly blurs these interpretations. Compassion is empathy and gaining an understanding of the patient's perspective. Some will talk of compassion as love and virtue, however as a professional nurse within the code of conduct I maintain a position of empathy through understanding. Caring lately is construed in similar ways including giving of oneself and "going the extra mile", for me caring is performing my role to the best of my ability, the outcomes of that role are focused on evidence based care to maximise patient health and wellbeing. I cannot assure my patients of love, or sharing my inner self, but I can assure the highest quality in compassion and caring through being a professional nurse. And yes Mr Hunt - this can be taught, role modelled and we can be proud to be called nurses.

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  • Adedapo Haastrup

    I was going to say its about time we got a bit of compassion as well . Those still on the N.M.C. Register, those in active practice , Nursing Students , H.C.A.'s ,those that have been suspended as well as those struck-off.

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  • Agree entirely with the article and the comments thereafter. I was reported to the fitness to practice panel in January and after 6 months, they still haven't decided whether it warrants investigation or not. Throughout this time, I have had to continue working as if nothing has happened, offering care, compassion and empathy to my patients whilst receiving none from the NMC. As a professional body which is funded by the contributions from it's members, the NMC remains an invisible force which only rears it's head to publicly scold and judge, never to support.

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