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”.