A few days ago, I tweeted about a beautiful letter and said that NHS staff deserve a more balanced press.
I didn’t expect 70 re-tweets, nine favourites, 50 new followers and 40 responses. One said that I was wrong and that NHS care was terrible. A couple said that poor care must be dealt with as well as good care celebrated. Absolutely.
The rest were supportive. One doctor said the letter made him cry, because to be compassionate, staff must feel valued. He doesn’t think they are any more. And a lovely parent talked about their two year old, newly diagnosed with leukaemia; the letter apparently said everything they felt about the wonderful NHS.
Chief Nurse Jane Cummings has just launched her 6 Cs campaign. While some view it positively, there is the usual anonymous online cynicism. I challenge those cowardly cynics, especially on the most important C, compassion.
Whether you are a cleaner or a professor, compassion is fundamental to great care. Kindness doesn’t come naturally. Some people are just not cut out for a caring role, because of their personality, experiences or prejudices. But many can find compassion within themselves, as long as the culture is right. Compassion has to be nurtured, encouraged, rewarded and role modelled. That places responsibility on colleagues, managers, boards and commissioners.
And the public. If we want nurses to show compassion, as the vast majority do, we must all play our part. It is of course stressful and frightening to be ill. But 60,000 NHS staff were seriously assaulted by members of the public last year. Examples of aggression and rudeness are rife. Patients and families are far more likely to report experiences of bad care than good ones, despite the evidence that the latter are many times more common. Great care never makes the headlines; poor care invariably does. Politicians fall into modern traps of anecdotes and negative sound bites.
Here’s what patients told Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors at one of my trust’s mental hospitals in our most recent unannounced inspection:
“I am looked after very well.”
“Staff here really do care about you.”
“There are loads of activities – tons to do.”
“I especially like going to the sports hall. That and making pancakes is fun.”
“The night staff are lovely.”
“My privacy and dignity are always respected. They always knock before coming into my room.”
“The staff really do care about you, and they know how to deal with problems. I feel safe.”
Read more on the CQC website.
Not many jobs require people to be on top of their game intellectually, extremely practical, capable and efficient, and consistently kind and compassionate, whatever happens.
They say culture eats strategy for breakfast. If we truly value compassion, we must do all we can to breed a culture of compassion in the NHS. And at my trust, that’s starts with me.
Lisa Rodrigues CBE, Chief Executive, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Follow Lisa on twitter @LisaSaysThis