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'Compassion is not missing from the NHS'


Nurses need to be shown compassion. That is what I wrote just two weeks ago in this column, when I suggested that government reaction and media coverage of nursing over the past year implied that what went wrong at Mid Staffs was entirely down to a lack of compassion in nursing staff.

Nurses rightly feel aggrieved at suggestions that their lack of a desire to do the job well is to blame for the care failings there and at other struggling hospitals and NHS organisations.

That column struck a chord with many of you who feel sick and tired of having the finger pointed at you - without any evidence to back it up.

Cue secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt stating in The Telegraph just over a week ago that what nurses need to do their jobs well is compassion. He did so while confirming a review of pre- and post-registration nurse education and training by Lord Willis. His comments amounted to suggesting that compassion needed to be put back into the heart of education, training and the profession.

Will someone please just listen? Listen to the nursing profession instead of telling it what’s wrong.

Here are the facts. Compassion never actually left nursing. Most nurses are so compassionate that they work hours of unpaid overtime, come into work on their days off and sacrifice their home lives to put their patients first. If they didn’t, the NHS would collapse.

Compassion never actually left nursing. Most nurses are so compassionate they work hours of unpaid overtime and sacrifice their home lives to put patients first

What’s wrong isn’t a lack of compassion; it’s a lack of nurses to deliver care. Our surveys into understaffing (most recently carried out in February) and Unison’s last month reveal that nurses are compassionate - but they are so stretched that they don’t have time to deliver the care they want to. It’s not an absence of emotion but an absence of resource that’s the problem.

Do we need to spend more money on yet another review of nurse education and training? Wouldn’t it be better spent on employing more nurses? Don’t we already have the evidence of what’s wrong?

It seems to me the government wants to keep spending money on pointless reviews until one comes up with the answer it likes.

Yes, the public love it when Mr Hunt stands up and says compassion must be at the core of the NHS. It’s crowdpleasing stuff. I agree that compassion is crucial - but I disagree that it is missing from our NHS. And compassion goes both ways Mr Hunt, so now you need to show some to nurses. It’s time to stop insulting a hardworking profession by suggesting nurses have forgotten how to care, and start giving them the tools to enable them to do their jobs.

Jenni Middleton, editor Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed


Readers' comments (5)

  • Common sense at last - most nurses DO do a good job - compassion is an integral part of most nurses - it is the never ending demands and lack of compassion for nurses that is essentially at the heart of a lot of problems in the NHS and nursing in general - I am afraid that our can do and will do nature is a causative effect and has had been abused

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  • It does seem obvious that, scrambling to address concerns, the government has gone for the soft target that will ring true in the tabloids rather than cutting wasteful spending elsewhere to fund more nursing positions. It is time for nurses to stand up to the insults of our so-called leaders. It is time for nurses to get involved in the political debate, making sure that they avoid rhetoric and spin, crafting a clear and coherent message about the contribution of our profession.

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  • passion for what you do and the compassion just follows automatically! ;.)

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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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  • i worked as a nurse in uk . you talk a lot of compassion but compassion is not possible without some kind of reciprocity. when the priority if save money not people i can be a saint but things will remain bad. the big mayority of saints die in a very bloody way

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