Vantage point: It’s all about care and compassion

Despite the huge leap forwards in healthcare, the basic fact remains – the sick need us to engage with them and really listen to their needs.

‘To find grace, watch a 16-year-old carer feed an 85-year-old woman with severe dementia, but pass by those in the office writing care plans’ (Barritt 2005).

geriatric care
Compassion and paying attention are important in patient-centred care. Photo: Science Photo Library 

While great advances have been made in nursing and in medical technology, research shows that those facing illness need practitioners who engage with them and are sensitive to their needs.

Barritt refers to finding grace in caring acts and Brykcynska (1997) rightly claims that nursing without caring would be nursing without its soul.

Human caring

Ask any patient what makes a good nurse and they will probably refer to an aspect of human caring: the ability to hear their hopes and concerns, to communicate honestly and sensitively, and to have the generosity to walk with them that extra step.

The ability to care is not always about the length of time required but, more importantly, about the quality of that time spent with others and paying attention. Campbell (1984) describes healthcare workers as ‘skilled companions’ to those we care for. This requires clinical expertise and leadership, as well as journeying alongside those we support.


In the focus on developing clinical skills there is often less emphasis on the companionship that Campbell refers to. The care at the heart of nursing and healthcare requires us all to remain humble and sensitive to the needs of others.

Taking time to hear the personal story of those we care for and how they try to make sense of their illness is crucial in person-centred care. Continuing to focus on compassion through listening may shift the focus from the idea of ‘the patient’ to ‘person-centred’ care.


Barritt P (2005) Humanity in Healthcare: The Heart and Soul of Medicine. Radcliffe Publishing, Abingdon

Brykczynska G (1995) Caring: The Compassion and Wisdom of Nursing. Arnold, London

Campbell A (1984) Moderated Love: A Theology of Professional Care. SPCK. London

About the author

Barry Quinn is assistant director of nursing and senior lecturer at the Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust in London and a member of the editorial board



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