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04th March 2016

Supporting Compassion in Care

A recent research study, reported in Nurse Education Today, was carried out jointly by several universities across the UK. The study pointed out that while the 'system' is often blamed for failures and shortcomings in nursing practice, the problem can often be that the qualities of individual nurses are at the heart of problems. Specifically the article talks about the lack of compassion in some people, although emphasising that most nurses are caring and compassionate. The study recommends fresh attention be given to selection and training to ensure that accredited nurses have the required compassion and other personal qualities.

Nurses will see this as yet another stick to be beaten with, and a diversion from the problems of the system and organisations in which they work. I have to agree with them in that.

We do not have to look far to find problems within our health and care systems. Staff shortages are at an all-time high in the NHS. The BBC reported that in December 2015 nearly ten per cent of NHS nursing posts were vacant. There are similar issues in GP services: a forthcoming conference of the Scottish GP service has the poor morale of GPs on its agenda. The recent strikes by junior doctors reflects dissatisfaction with conditions which is reportedly sending newly trained staff abroad for more satisfying employment.

Funding of health and care services is also problematic, and perhaps at the root of staff shortages. This applies equally to public, private and third sector care services. Privatisation has often led to further paring of budgets and personnel to increase profit.

In this combination of issues, nurses and other front line staff are dealing with the almost impossible task of maintaining high standards of practice in the face of escalating obstacles. It is not surprising that levels of burn-out are high, and that recruitment of staff is becoming an ever increasingly difficult task.

In my previous work I have met people whom I thought should not have been in care. To put it kindly, their personalities would have supported a different choice of profession. I also met people who seemed ideally suited for the work, widely praised and effective in helping. But I have seen some of the latter actually burn out, with serious consequences for their clients as well as for their personal life. These incidents are alarming, and due to external stresses which, if not dealt with, have devastating results.

So yes, I believe perhaps we do need to strengthen our selection criteria and foster compassion through training. But more fundamentally I think organisations can foster increasingly good practice through supporting workers, including nurses, to provide well-resourced preventive and health-promoting services. Instead we are today often putting committed professionals in difficult situations where they are labelled as lacking compassion, and their clients are at intolerable risk of receiving a second-class service.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Tony Clarke

Scottish Care Inspectorate Specialist

Tony began care work as a care assistant in care of the elderly here in Scotland in the 1970s. He very much enjoyed promoting activities, interests and good basic care. After a gap to gain a social work qualification, he worked in management of care services, latterly as a peripatetic manager which gave him experience of a wide range of services.

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