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I was trained to be hands off with patients but now I think a hug might be the best medicine

They reassure and comfort and offer thanks and condolences, so hugs between patients and healthcare professionals can be a welcome part of the job, says Jane Bates

They reassure and comfort and offer thanks and condolences, so hugs between patients and healthcare professionals can be a welcome part of the job, says Jane Bates


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The young doctor reached over and held the patient in her arms. She had delivered a difficult diagnosis and the hug she gave was spontaneous, straight from the heart. Later the patient told me how much she was comforted by being physically held and what a difference it made.  Would I have done the same as the doctor? Definitely not. I have been conditioned into acting in a particular way with patients, and it is too late to change.  

No more stiff upper lip

It seems I am stuck in a time warp, because most people nowadays are huggers. My family is not physically demonstrative; it has always been awkward handshakes and stiff upper lips, apart from the younger generation, who delight the oldies with their generous shows of affection. 

And then there is the effect of my nursing training. As students, we were strictly forbidden to have any physical contact with patients apart from the necessary. Anything could be misconstrued, they said. If ever I had embraced a patient, in the way the young doctor did, I would have been marched into the sister’s office and hauled over the coals for inappropriate behaviour. 

Attitudes change with the times

But how the world has changed. I often find myself clasped to the bosom of a grateful patient, and I rather like these shows of warmth and friendliness. It’s sweet. For people who have very little contact with others, what a welcome solace it must be. 

My fear is, with the #MeToo movement, and the fall-out from recent scandals, there is only one way for the pendulum to swing, and that is back to strictly ‘hands off’, depriving patients of a much-needed moment of reassurance. What a sad day that will be. 

 Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire
 

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