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Senior nurses urged to give staff more support on complaints handling

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Frontline nurses need more support and training in coping with complaints from patients, nursing leaders have been warned by the author of an NHS review.

Professor Tricia Hart, a nurse and chief executive of South Tees Hospitals Foundation Trust, co-authored a report published last month into the way complaints are handled by the NHS.

In a strong presentation to the chief nursing officer’s summit in Birmingham today, Professor Hart repeatedly challenged senior nurses to reflect on whether they were adequately supporting their staff.

She highlighted the daily emotional challenges faced by many nurses, and asked delegates if they had “ever been unkind” to a patient.  

“Dealing with patients vomiting and bleeding, having to care for people who are incontinent, having to care for people who have really difficult odours – that’s hard,” she said. “From a nursing perspective, that is not easy.”

She added: “[Nurses] need energy, they need concentration, they need the right state of mind to not to recoil and ever express disgust when they are dealing with patients that are vulnerable.”

“We know nursing takes courage, it takes compassion and it takes human kindness.”

Professor Hart reminded nurse leaders that the behaviour of their staff was a “reflection of the culture of the organisation they work for”.

“What’s the organisation like where you work, and how are you testing out that organisational culture,” she asked. What’s your litmus test about ensuring that it is the most compassionate.

“What are you doing as senior leaders in your part of the health and care system to assess the culture…in that ward in that department,” she added.

Professor Hart also highlighted a lack of training for clinicians on dealing and coping with patient complaints identified in her recent review, which was carried out with the MP Anne Clwyd.

She said: “One issue that came up very strongly for me in the work was that many of the staff involved in working on complaints have no training whatsoever, had no career development, had no opportunity to think about how they could enhance their skills.

“Why are we putting some of our colleagues into that position where they’ve not been given a real opportunity to learn, to share, to develop and to grow,” she said.

“As nursing leaders, I think we can really support our nursing colleagues to make sure they know how to handle some of the most difficult conversations and dialogues,” she said. “We need to look at how we resolve and how we learn.”

Professor Hart stated: “We need to light a fire inside all of our colleagues, not underneath them – so everybody, every day, every shift is really thinking about the kindness, the focus, because if we do that we will reduce the number of complaints.   

“We should be focusing on preventing complaints in the first place. Maybe that’s utopia but it’s something we should be working towards.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • recoil and express disgust - what are you talking about? we don't express disgust over body odours, bleeding, vomiting, incontinence.
    we express disgust with the way we are treated, the way our patients are treated, the way short staffing continues. the way beds are cut and hospitals are closed, the wa no-one seems to take any notice of what we have to say.

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