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Rob Harteveldt

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‘Holistic care is a major nursing achievement’

Some people look back to the olden days of nursing with fondness – the so-called golden era. But being old enough to remember the ‘golden era’ there is one overwhelming reason why I believe it should stay firmly in the past: patients were treated not as individuals but as a set of symptoms. Over the years, we have come to realise that the mind and body are inseparable – the concept of holism.

When stressed, we secrete hormones that affect our well-being. Strong links have been found between prolonged stress responses and heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Yet the NHS appears to increase rather than decrease patient stress.

Failing to welcome patients when they arrive on wards, moving them in the night to create empty beds and having little time to explain medications on discharge, all affect how these people perceive the hospital experience and ultimately how they recover.

A vital part of the nurse’s role is to help relieve patients’ stress but we’re often too busy trying to keep our wards afloat in a sea of targets. So, are we neglecting the psychological input patients need, and if so, has the true essence of nursing been lost?

A key factor in improving patient well-being is the ability to communicate. This does not always require long conversations but choosing the appropriate words or simply offering a listening ear can radiate a sense of empathy and a feeling of caring.

In my role, communication is essential and I have seen how carefully chosen words can turn frightened individuals into confident people who report less pain and anxiety.

Communication also nurtures the human spirit, which can have an effect on quality of life far beyond anything traditional medicines can achieve.

In my career, I have nursed patients who deteriorated quickly after being told they were dying in a way that robbed them of all hope. In contrast, others were informed in a way that enhanced the life they had left, some living months past their prognosis. In both examples the news was the same but the outcomes were very different.

As the pressures of work increase, we must seek to improve the one skill that defines us as nurses – the ability to communicate well – to reassure, motivate and support our patients.

Failure to do so will lead us back to the ‘golden era’, which next to the bright light of holistic care, seems awfully rusty.

Rob Harteveldt is a cardiac liaison nurse at Stoke Mandeville Hospital

NEXT WEEK: Alison Gadsby on what nurses can do to help reduce suicide rates

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