Compassion is a vital element of care

Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has developed a compassionate leadership programme that draws on the natural altruism of staff.

Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has developed a compassionate leadership programme that draws on the natural altruism of staff.

Picture: Alamy

The NHS was founded 69 years ago on the principles of compassion and commitment to providing free healthcare to those who require it, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, economic status or any other characteristic.

Since then, there has been fierce, nationally expressed protection of the NHS, as outlined by, for example, West et al (2017). There has also been much criticism of the NHS, an obvious example being that which arose from the findings of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust public inquiry.

The inquiry described a chronic shortage of nursing staff, low morale and a ‘disturbing lack of compassion towards their patients’. The inquiry report includes recommendations for ‘improved support for compassionate, caring and committed care and stronger healthcare leadership’.

Core skills

Since the inquiry was completed, there have been many developments in the NHS that focus on compassion. These include the introduction of the 6Cs, which describe ‘care, compassion, competence, communication, courage and commitment’ as core skills and values for nursing.

The Department of Health (DH) also set out guiding principles in The NHS Constitution, in which one of the values discussed is compassion: ‘We ensure that compassion is central to the care we provide and respond with humanity and kindness to each person’s pain, distress, anxiety or need. We search for the things we can do, however small, to give comfort and relieve suffering. We find time for patients, their families and carers, as well as those we work alongside. We do not wait to be asked, because we care.’

Other reports, such as Culture Change in the NHS and Freedom to Speak Up, were intended to enable NHS staff to voice their concerns about patient safety and other issues without fear of bullying or isolation. It is suggested that compassion should be embedded in the culture of an organisation so that staff care for each other as well as for patients.

Leadership programme

Nurse managers have competing priorities and may validly ask: ‘Why are we working on a new initiative when we have waiting lists and no staff? How do we manage this divergence of priorities?’

At Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, we have developed a compassionate leadership programme to enhance the intrinsic motivation of NHS staff and reinforce their fundamental altruism (West et al 2017).

It could be concluded that compassionate leadership creates the necessary conditions for innovation, and therefore improves quality and safety.

To meet the daily challenges nurse managers and their teams face, however, they must develop a compassionate culture through leadership that aligns to the vision and values of their organisations, with clear lines of sight to the enhancements they want to make through innovation and improvement.

Further information

  • Two videos have been made to show how innovation at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust works. They are ThePowerTo and Brighter Together

About the author

Elaine Williams is a Freedom to Speak Up guardian, innovation lead and senior quality improvement practitioner, at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust



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