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Has healthcare lost its humanity?


Do you think healthcare has become just about systems and processes so that the individual - staff and patient - are just cogs in the ever-turning wheel?

Putting humanity back into healthcare was the subject of a conference held this week by The Point of Care Foundation. Speakers and delegates explored how to make healthcare more human from the perspective of both nurses and patients.

Jocelyn Cornwell, chief executive of the foundation, said: “The human connection in health is fundamental to patients and to staff.” She added that it is not the icing on the cake. It is the cake.

Some may think that at a time when the NHS is struggling to cope with patient demand and with 100,000 nurse vacancies, this is not the right time to be discussing this topic. Ms Cornwell points out that, in fact, now more than ever is the right time.

“Teams need to have time and space to think about and to question what they are doing.”

A session discussed how care is best when nurses are at their best. But what fosters those conditions? Amy Stabler, senior lecturer at the Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University,  emphasised how humanising healthcare is about addressing hierachy.

She urged staff to learn names in their immediate team and wider team – and to use them. She also pointed out that teams need to have time and space to think about and to question what they are doing.

Tracy Boylin, who was an HR director for 30 years, tapped her microphone and told the audience “this microphone is a resource” but then pointed out that we as individuals are not a resource. And she reflected on her previous experience, which has taught her that focusing on a target means you only see that one thing and miss the rest of what is happening around you.

Heather Caudle, director of nursing for improvement at NHS England, explained that she was at her best when she was at ease with the people around her. She said: “I am at my best when I value others and they value me – when I am comfortable.” She added that the way the nursing workforce is treated is also the way nurses will unconsciously deliver healthcare.

A brainstorm among delegates came up with a number of ways of helping staff to be able to be engaged and to be able to care. These included “making sure the basics are right” such as car parking, a 24-hour canteen, available tea and coffee and proper time for breaks.

“Strengthening the relationship between patients and staff would help to bring humanity back to healthcare”

Other essentials identified were for staff to feel valued, to have a no-blame culture that encourages safe and honest conversations, to be treated as human beings and to have space to share and reflect.

And finally, delegates called for employers to ask staff “what is stopping you doing what you want to do?”

A discussion about what human care means to patients brought up some interesting thoughts from a group of expert patients. One said that to survive as a patient you needed to take off your “patient hat” as much as possible to maintain your identity.

Another pointed out that it is hard to get patient-centred care from a system that is in fact brutalising its own staff. A third said patients have a role to play in interactions and that to get human care they need to be human too in the relationship.

Strengthening the relationship between patients and staff would help to bring humanity back to healthcare. David Gilbert is the first of five patient directors across the country and is based at Sussex MSK Partnership.

He said: “The healthcare system still does not recognise the value of patients and we are still reduced to feedback fodder and as representatives on boards. What we need now is true partnership and collaboration.”

Chloe Stewart, health psychologist and supported self-management lead at the same organisation, urged a move away from a paternalistic relationship with patients towards that of a partnership. And reminded us that when a health professional is in a room with a patient there are in fact “two experts in the room”.



Readers' comments (6)

  • For decades I have spent most of my work time clattering away on key boards, same as every other nurse pretending I have achieved care and interacted.
    Its virtual care,its what the system wanted and its what the system's got.

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  • "She added that the way the nursing workforce is treated is also the way nurses will unconsciously deliver healthcare". Completely agree on this one! Don't expect a gold or diamond quality of patient care from nurses if nurses can't even buy enough food on the table from its meager salary, sky-high stress emotionally and physically, stretch to work extra hours without any compensation and not even a single appreciation from the higher ups. If only fair and conducive working place NHS is, then Yes! humanistic care can be expected but sadly it is clearly not the case.

    So good luck one day you or me will be one of the patients lying on the hospital bed, helpless receiving inhumane care from neglected nursing workforce contantly praying for help from this pathetic government.

    Wake up UK!!!!

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  • It’s not rocket science, is it? In fact it’s surprising we are having this conversation at all. Things should never have got to this. The way people are treated by the government and managers in this country is disgusting. It doesn’t just happen in Nursing. It is notorious in Teaching and in every job such as retail for example. The pursuit of profit and the love of money by government policy and managers has been relentless, and, I agree with Anonymous above, that the health service ‘ it’s what the system wanted and the system is what it’s got’. Patients, nurses, students, the public, in the eyes of this government we are just physiological manifestations of a £ sign, nothing more. The use of deadlines, budgets and targets has encouraged managers to treat everything in an organisation as a resource, so as people, as sentient beings, we count for nothing. So a decent wage becomes irrelevant so long as the deadlines met and boxes ticked. Teaching is more pressured than Nursing. Teachers are expected to work at the same speed as computers as far as box ticking is concerned and there is no care about students. For example, I was concerned about the mental health of a student recently at a sussex coast college but his attendance wasn’t as high because of his mental health. I was dealing with this as well as I could in a system that didn’t care. I spoke with a manager about it. He said as the student hadn’t attended the college hadn’t received the cash from the government. Facetiously I said, ‘well at the side of that his mental health issues would pale into insignificance ‘. The manager agreed and continued typing on his keyboard. It was disgusting. I left. Nursing seems to be heading into this kind of territory quickly. It’s already failing it’s staff and patients. I really do not want it to become like Teaching. It is rare for me to have any respect for managers because they no longer consider the person in the job. Organisations such as the nhs only provide services that are paid for. This is a reason to hold people back, it stifles their creativity and happiness. Are there any people who are truly happy in a job any more? What is needed is an organisation with the weight of the mhra or Ofsted, lead by chartered psychologists who go into organisations and check out how managers are managing and what their impact on staff is. They could be charged with assessing stress levels on staff from managers, look at staff turnover rates, illness and staff happiness in the job, check systems and processes and the amount of repetitive information in Nursing and Teaching that we are expected to collect and input that wastes so much time. They could be forced to make managers account for their management practice and bring bullies to book. It should be a powerful body designed to protect staff from the gamut of poor managers out there who think bullying people into submission is good management practice and management which is based on personality rather than good practice. And challenge managers who have too much personality in their ‘professionalism ‘. In my experience poor management causes poor results and when threatened with a regulatory body staff are pressured further and a personal life becomes non-existent, the workforce generally paying for poor managerial decisions by a few. All regulatory organisations do is sanction bullying and poor management practice to get the results needed regardless of the cost to the person. They are meaningless. It could be said that unions should play a role in this but they have become progressively weakened over time and the governments have provided nothing to help staff, just regulatory bodies to help managers get results. If we get rid of all the poor managers in the country, what effect will that have on nhs users? Will stress levels go down and mental health improve as a result? How much money would that save for the nhs? At this time the nhs is more desperately short of leaders and good leadership with positive attitudes and all we’ve got is a gamut of management who are managed by other managers. We need a social and cultural attitude change from good leaders.

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  • The comment above seems to hold managers soley responsible for all failings in health care. To this person, I say: I used to be a manager and although it meant halving my salary, I left and can now say I am happy in my work! As a manager, you are only as good in the eyes of your staff as the last time you said 'yes'. The stress I was under was unimaginable. I had 24 hour responsibility for my unit; I was called relentlessly by staff; I covered endless shifts that encroached into my days off. Discipline? Don't make me laugh. I did a spot check on nights only to discover the night nurses had their boyfriends on the unit. I told the boyfriends to leave, prompting protests from the nurses, who couldn't see what the problem was as 'they were only in the office'. I couldn't suspend the nurses as, quite frankly, I didn't have the staff to cover their shifts. I wrote an incident form, prompting investigation and one of them went off sick anyway.
    Managing recalcitrant staff is a nightmare. As a manager, you spend 95% of your time managing 5% of your staff, whilst the rest get on and do their jobs brilliantly under difficult circumstances. I undertook complaint investigations, training modules, sickness action plans, performance action plans, attended meetings, completed revalidation for others, covered long days at weekends in addition to my own rota, all whilst trying to ensure optimum care delivery. Don't bother trying to ask for help, there is none. So next time you blame the manager for your woes, complain that they are doing nothing, remember that their work load is one you don't necessarily see and their support can be limited or non existent. Don't get me wrong, there are some poor managers out there who don't care, who are bullies and who should be removed. Just as there are nurses out there who don't care, are bullies and should do something else. I don't lump all nurses into the same category and neither should you.

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  • I agree with the comments above. And it’s why I left my previous job.

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  • Please note all above and the article information is 100 %.including the last 2 managers
    Why di we akwats have to blame someone !!!!comments.
    I have been a nurse for over 40 years still here still frustrated, Still standing too !
    Bring the true basics of nursing and respect for one another but most of all our patients back to life .
    NURSE =
    Note when your patient needs you. Look Listen and Learn from them
    Understand they are are not difficult pts but rather patients in pain and just as frustrated with The systems as We Are !!
    Responsible for our actions we all get it wrong sometime Think Why ! And talk about it could it be No breaks No teamwork !!! Across the HCP board
    Study and study more try not to become stagnant with our minds and knowledge With our body try to stay or even become a healthy role model;our accountability of Duty of care to our patients We need them they need us !
    Excellence of care Do we really strive to do our best
    If we could would we I believe We should !.
    Adds up to Nurse
    Old School yes I am Discplined Caring compassionate Yes I am But I have to ask myself really For how Much Longer !!!!! Do I want to subject my patients and myself to apathy unhappiness politics surrounding me !!!

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