Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, has criticised the NHS for treating some patients with a lack of compassion.
In a homily delivered at a mass for the sick at Westminster Cathedral, Archbishop Nichols quoted from the NHS Constitution, which pledges to “respond with humanity and kindness to each person’s pain, distress, anxiety or need”.
He said: “These are splendid sentiments, often they are fulfilled in NHS hospitals, for which so many are very grateful. But sometimes they are not, as some will know from personal experience.”
“Where this happens it is not simply a matter of the attitudes of individual, though of course that is part of the story. It is also about the prevailing culture in an institution, the pressures of control and delivery which can impair and diminish the ability of staff to care properly.”
During the service, he called for a “culture of compassion and healing” as the focus of the NHS, with the sick and dying comforted, instead of being treated as a burden. He said he hoped this would promote “care characterised by humility, respect, and a refusal to see patients as no more than a medical or behavioural problem to be tackled and resolved.”
Archbishop Nichols also spoke about the end of life care, saying that today’s society appeared not to know how to deal with death. He rejected the views of advocates of assisted suicide, emphasising that death is not just a clinical event and that the spiritual being of a person must be central to the care they receive at the time of death.