A senior nurse has written a frank account of some of the upsetting circumstances surrounding her own mother’s death to highlight the importance of compassionate nursing care.
In the first of a series of blog posts, Clare Price-Dowd, a nurse and senior programme lead at the NHS Leadership Academy, has described her distress and frustration at the insensitive care she experienced from doctors and others while her elderly mother lay dying in hospital.
“As I looked a mess, he thought he had the right to be insensitive”
In contrast, she also explained how the compassion displayed by one student nurse made a big difference at this difficult time in her life.
Having flung on some clothes and rushed to her mother’s bedside in the early hours of the morning, Ms Price-Dowd described how a consultant was “very rude and abrupt”.
“I honestly think if I had been there in the afternoon in a fancy suit or dress he wouldn’t have spoken to me the way he did,” she said.
“Perceptions really count and as I looked a mess, he thought he had the right to be insensitive,” she said.
She also described how she “really had to fight her corner” to ensure her mother, who had advanced dementia, did not undergo surgery that she would not have wanted.
“It seemed obvious to me she was dying without dignity but no one seemed to listen or care, apart from the student nurse on the ward,” said Ms Price-Dowd.
“All I remember is the student nurse – Jennifer – listening carefully to everything I had to say and making me feel like my mum and I were the only two people who mattered at the time,” she said.
“No one seemed to listen or care, apart from the student nurse”
Despite the fact her mum died six years ago, Ms Price-Dowd said she remembered everything that happened “like it was yesterday”.
She said her experiences exemplified the importance of ensuring compassion was inherent in “everything nurses do”.
“Nurses often enter people’s lives at a very vulnerable time and the way they treat people and their families can leave a lasting impression,” she noted.
“We’re probably the nation’s most trusted profession but if we don’t act and behave in a compassionate way, we ultimately risk losing what we’re here to do: provide high quality care to those who need it the most,” she said.
She highlighted the fact that “transient conversations” at the end of a shift or home visit were often when patients revealed what was worrying them most.
“You might have been on shift for hours but the last two minutes before you leave is when the real issues come up,” she said.
Nurse leader draws on personal experience to promote compassion
“When you’re visiting patients or families at home, you should never turn down a cup of tea, because you might be turning them away at a time when they have decided they trust you and need you the most,” she said. “If you show true compassion, people will open up to you.”
In addition, she stressed the importance of leadership and senior nurses acting as role models for compassionate care.
In the blog post, published at the start of this week, she also acknowledged the challenges of working in a high pressure environment.
“I know nursing staff often miss breaks or might go hungry, because they’re busy helping patients and that can often be challenging,” she said. “But no matter how you’re feeling, you get up and go to work to make a difference, that’s what we’re trained to do.
“A compassionate word – no matter how stressed you are – leaves a lasting impression; it hinges on the difference between a smile, frown or a blank face, or perhaps not being acknowledged at all,” she said.
She added: “Someone once told me that as nurses we’re paid to care ‘for’ people but good nurses care ‘about’ people – that’s what we need to strive for.”