Falling care standards have prompted a rallying call from the new Chief Nursing Officer. In an increasingly heated debate, she’s calling for nursing to recover its core values – particularly care, compassion, courage, commitment and communication.
Today Jane Cumming takes things a step further – initiating a new three-year ‘Compassion in Practice’ strategy based on these core values. New recruits and trainees will be taught about compassion as part of their core training and evaluated as part of professional appraisal, alongside the core technical competencies.
This all makes good sense, but one wonders if this is sufficient? The problem seems to be deeply rooted in the whole structure of the nursing profession and the NHS at this time. A report yesterday suggested the ratio of patients to staff is far too high, and that is (at least in part) responsible for falling care standards, or at least forcing staff to focus on technical competency rather than compassion.
But it goes deeper than that. It’s also about the type of care we value. In a system where performance targets are key and evidence based practice is fundamental, it tends to be the more human and humane elements of our care that are least valued because they are less readily measured. Setting targets for compassionate care is never likely to be a realistically measurable process.
Finally, of course, we are facing highly complex medical care for increasingly complex long term health needs that requires health professionals with greater technical competence in managing new therapeutic technologies. Somehow, in training staff in technical competence, we seem to have lost the human competence aspect.
A culture shift is needed – one that values people as people and not just as problems to be sorted out and treated. Cultures change only when there is good leadership with a clear vision – and we need nursing, medical and managerial leadership throughout the NHS that is committed to reclaiming humanity in healthcare. To that end, I think we need to challenge Christians in all the professions not to eschew leadership positions. It’s not that we are necessarily more compassionate than people of other faiths or no faith, but that we have a heritage in the history of nursing and medicine to draw upon, and a role model in Jesus Christ who shows us the way to a more compassionate way of caring.