NHS Confederation responds to announcement on measuring compassion from health secretary

Wednesday, 18 June, 2008

Responding to the announcement, Steve Barnett, acting chief executive of the NHS Confederation which represents over 95 per cent of NHS organisations says:

"There is no quick fix for compassion. Addressing the problem of compassion in the NHS is a wide cultural, leadership and management issue. It is also an issue for every professional.

"It will be very difficult to measure and benchmark compassion - particularly at the level of the ward. We do need to improve the measures we use to assess the quality of nursing but the element of compassion is not easily quantified. It is much more straightforward to measure clinical outcomes and it is invaluable to get feedback from patients. We need to start by using and refining existing measures before we consider new ones.

"The measures must be owned at local level, backed up with training and support."

The Confederation has highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach to compassion in its futures debate paper for its annual conference which opens in Manchester. The paper is entitled 'Compassion in healthcare - the missing dimension of healthcare reform?' and will be debated at the conference this week.

The key points were:

Care, compassion and some aspects of basic care delivery appear under strain in health systems around the world.
Individuals, including clinicians, can feel powerless to raise concerns.
Aligning policy, leadership and practice can make real, practical differences to the way in which patients are cared for.
Putting compassion and care back into healthcare requires action at system level; by organisational leaders; and by individuals

The author of the paper, Robert Youngson, -founder of the Centre for Compassion in Healthcare, identifies the things, which he believes will help strengthen compassion:

Declare compassion as a core value
Reward rather than punish compassionate caring
Hone communication and relationship skills
Provide space for staff to discuss difficult issues
Challenge models of professionalism
Hard-wire new behaviours
Declare compassion as a management and leadership competence
Engage health consumers in the change

Steve Barnett said, "In his prescription for compassion, Robin argues for something emotionally engaging and personal that speaks to the basic values of staff and professionals: the need to focus on nurturing a humane quality of understanding suffering in others and the desire to do something about it."

The NHS Confederation and NHS Employers are also undertaking work on the role of the nurse.

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