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13th February 2013

Mid Staffordshire NHS: breaking the bond between compassion and competence

How could the Mid Staffordshire scandal happen?

As the 1,782 page Francis report into the ‘disaster’ at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust sets out, failures occurred at every level, from nursing staff, through layers of management and watchdogs all the way up to the Department of Health.

Some of the examples of patient neglect that have emerged are impossible to square in any circumstances with the standards of a modern healthcare system in a developed economy.

These include patients who were:

  • Unwashed for a month and forced to soil themselves
  • Dehydrated and drinking water from vases
  • Denied pain relief which had been prescribed

If it is a given that compassion is the hallmark of those in caring professions, then it seems that the absence of compassion is the standout point in the scandal. If this is so, how could the choice to not care have become so systemically enshrined across a range of competent health professionals where compassion should be a common bond that unites all in a common purpose?

Good people capable of bad things

When people in caring professions are faced with difficult situations on a daily basis then compassion may be the first casualty. Essentially, complexity and the increasingly professional nature of nursing are detracting from its compassionate side.

It seems unthinkable, but in essence some of the grass roots opinion from healthcare professionals seems to suggest that when sufficiently stressed, good people are capable of bad things. In Mid Staffs it seems that the ‘bad thing’ is a failure to act to ensure that the goal of patient centric care was observed at all times.

The effects of stress are not limited to NHS nurses, doctors and managers, nor are these the only areas of healthcare faced with increasing complexity and professional pressures. The same is true of the wider health and social care system. Care workers, supervisors and registered managers in residential and domiciliary care are all susceptible to the effects of stress.

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Follow the link to the article ‘Mid Staffs report: Failure at every level has shaken trust in the NHS’ - - 06 February 2013.

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