Qualifications, Job Skills AND Compassion?

The government wants nurses to be rated by their kindness.  They are to be measured and marked by how much compassion and empathy they show towards their patients . .  and by how much they smile.  Health secretary, Alan Johnson wants nursing teams across the NHS to be scored and the results displayed on a website.  Article here.

I was tempted to throw in some sarcasm and suggest mandatory courses entitled Compassions Skills Training or *How to Keep Smiling while You Dress that Smelly Necrotic Wound* which would result in nurses cleaning up soiled patients while maintaining their fixed-on, supermarket check-out grin-and-bear-everything faces but that would be insulting to the tirelessly friendly supermarket check-out staff.  So, although some nurses could do with an injection of compassion or at least a few lessons in smiling, and athough it’s usually the grossly underpaid nursing auxilliaries who do most of the dirty work, I really should hold off the sarcasm.  Too late.  Never mind.

Seriously, I’m a firm believer that a compassionate approach and a friendly smiling face helps the recovery and the well-being of a patient but I would think that a compassionate nature is a given for anyone wanting a career in care-giving.  Forget the silly smiling lark, personally, I don’t believe that anyone should even think of entering the nursing profession if they don’t possess high levels of compassion and empathy.  And I’m not suggesting nurses should have bubbly and extrovert personalities but a friendly disposition helps.

Of course, beaming happy faces aren’t always appropriate but I would expect nurses to be professional enough to assess each situation and act accordingly.  Sometimes, nothing they say can make things better but a gentle smile and some sensitivity can give sometimes give comfort or reassurance to patients and their loved ones.   

Ultimately, no matter how hard the job gets (and it does get hard – on many levels) the empathy and compassion should remain as a natural part of the care-giver.  No amount of grumbling, however justified, about workloads, internal politics, low pay, lack of resources, feeling undervalued or indeed, the personality/attitude of the patients themselves, should really justify any lowering of that compassion or empathy.  Yes, it’s hard not to become embittered by the system . . . and the very nature of the work itself can get you truly down.  But that’s not the patients fault and compassion must never run out in a care-giving environment. 

To be fair, I’m glad to say that although I’ve worked with some pretty rude, lazy and grumpy caregivers, most nurses, both trained and untrained, do maintain a decent level of compassion.  Frontline staff have to tolerate all kinds of abuse from aggressive patients and relatives, especially in the Mental Health and A&E departments.  Sometimes it’s gratuituous and such behaviour really is intolerable but often it’s simply because they are feeling scared or vulnerable.  And we do have mandatory conflict resolution courses that provide guidance and guidelines on how to deal with or indeed avoid confrontational situations.  

I know from experience that nurses get tired, they get stressed and they get anxious when their heavy workloads prevent them from giving hands-on TLC to their patients.  Many nurses also suffer from compassion-fatigue at some point in their career and that’s perfectly understandable.  Nurses are human too.  But when it becomes more serious or long-term and it’s affecting their duty of care on a regular basis, that is the time when they need practical support and understanding . . . from management, friends, colleagues.  If nurses are going to be pulled up because their compassion levels have slipped due to overburdening workloads and low morale, the last thing they need is to be blacklisted or stigmatised and made to feel even worse about themselves.

To conclude, my overall opinion of the government’s plans is that I would definitely not like to see any kind of smile-rating or Compassion Index introduced to the NHS to add to the bureaucracy.  How does compassion get measured anyway?  It would be far easier to look out for and deal with a lack of compassion.  It’s a fact that some nurses (and doctors, it must be said) would definitely benefit from a refresher course in bedside manners but nursing compassion and empathy should really only be targeted when it doesn’t exist. 

Oh, and it’s about time we saw some genuine compassion and empathy from the politicians towards front line healthcare workers!


5 responses to this post.

  1. ‘Compassion Index ‘ …. What! You have got to be bloody joking. Has this government gone stark raving mad. Actually, it obviously has. I cannot believe they come up with this bullshit … OK … horseshit. It’s bonkers. Men in grey suits; leave the people alone! Fcuk off!!


  2. Ditto Matty.

    How are they going to measure it? How are they going to count the smiles? Little camera’s above every hospital bed? That wouldn’t surprise me actually! Police state or what!


  3. Politicians tend to think that people are not intelligent, that a smile placates any sad or irate patient when the effect may be the contrary to that sought, if the smile is not spontaneous.


  4. And, I forgot, kindness always goes with the person.


  5. That’s it Jose. People can usually sense when other people are not genuine, even sick people.

    Kindness is a true virtue Jose as you should know because I sense you are full of virtue.


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