Comment

Non-verbal communication: why it’s important to show service users that you’re listening

Being held, heard and shown you matter is key for treating vulnerable patients

A hospital stay taught nurse Wendy Johnson how being held, heard and shown you matter is key for treating people with learning disabilities and/or autism

Recently, and unexpectedly, I found myself on the wrong side of the blanket and, as a patient in an NHS hospital, taking a lot of the medicine that I have been more used to dishing out to others.

It was a salutary, humbling, and educative experience, the learning from which I plan to use professionally. I hope what I learned from my experience may be useful for you as well.

Be mindful of patients who cannot readily communicate how they feel

Lesson 1: The story is everything. It was the late 19th-century Professor

A hospital stay taught nurse Wendy Johnson how being held, heard and shown you matter is key for treating people with learning disabilities and/or autism

Being held, heard and shown you matter is key for treating vulnerable patients
Picture: iStock

Recently, and unexpectedly, I found myself on the wrong side of the blanket and, as a patient in an NHS hospital, taking a lot of the medicine that I have been more used to dishing out to others.

It was a salutary, humbling, and educative experience, the learning from which I plan to use professionally. I hope what I learned from my experience may be useful for you as well.

Be mindful of patients who cannot readily communicate how they feel

Lesson 1: The story is everything. It was the late 19th-century Professor William Osler who recognised the importance of stories in medicine telling his students, ‘Just listen to your patient – he is telling you the diagnosis’.

The words are as true today as they were back then. The hospital experience has refocused my attention on looking for innovative ways that healthcare providers could close the story gap for patients who cannot readily communicate either how they are feeling, or what they need when they need it.

Lesson 2: Pain relief supports care plan compliance and positive mental health, in other words it prevents you from wanting to throw yourself out of the window. For the person who cannot ask for pain relief, always administer prescribed medication regularly.

Education in the pursuit of person-centred nursing practice is key

Lesson 3: Quieter things are important, particularly during the pandemic, and at a time of severely restricted visiting in hospitals. It is important to be held, heard and shown that you matter. Even as a capacitated adult ‘in the know’ I was at times frightened and vulnerable, trying to come to terms with an unexpectedly alarming, but treatable, diagnosis.

How must this be for the person with impairments who is separated from the comfort of the familiar and is at risk of unmet need due to being looked after by staff who want to do the right thing, but may not know how?

Be reminded of the critical value of education in the pursuit of knowledge that will inform and support compassionate, person-centred practice for our most vulnerable patients.


Wendy Johnson, associate director of safeguarding at Great Western Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Swindon

More from Wendy Johnson

Sign up to continue reading for FREE

OR

Unlock full access to RCNi Plus today

Save over 50% on your first three months:

  • Customisable clinical dashboard featuring 200+ topics
  • Unlimited online access to all 10 RCNi Journals including Learning Disability Practice
  • RCNi Learning featuring 180+ RCN accredited learning modules
  • NMC-compliant RCNi Portfolio to build evidence for revalidation
  • Personalised newsletters tailored to your interests

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs