Nursing Times Award Winner

A lesson in compassion?

The Government has announced it's planning to train nurses to be more compassionate.

Well. I'm not sure about that. The vast majority of people who enter the nursing profession do so brimming with great intentions of delivering the best possible care to patients. They shouldn’t need to be taught compassion. They arrive with shedloads of it, fired up from the first day of their training to be the best nurse ever.

But soon after their first placement on a ward, things start to go wrong. Intent on offering the best possible care, they soon realize that the system can be stacked against them. Endless targets, fear of litigation, lengthy paperwork, the constant sound of a buzzer from people trying to get into their ward that is often needlessly locked, all interrupt their desire to give the individual care their patients deserve. This makes them feel harassed, unappreciated and devalued.

All of us feel huge frustration and anger when we fail and it’s not our fault. The disastrous job interview, the exam where the wrong questions were asked, the lost document you thought you’d saved on the computer, the printer, despite being full of paper and ink, that still won’t print.

So, imagine you chose nursing as a vocation and then, day after day, had to see your profession damned in the papers. Wouldn’t you feel totally demoralized? Many are so depressed they leave. Many stay, but only because they worry about finding another job. Tragically, few would advise their career choice to their children. It’s a dangerously vicious circle.

I work from home. Last week I had an appointment. My daughter was in her bedroom revising for an exam. Thinking she’d appreciate the chance to earn some easy money, I asked her to answer the office phone while I was out. When I returned at lunchtime, I asked for the messages. She gave me four and then told me the rest were on the answerphone. She could see I was shocked that she had abandoned such a simple task to a machine.

Then she explained.

The phone had rung all morning, constantly interrupting her revision. She needed to concentrate to pass her exams. So, in order to give herself the best possible chance of passing, she had shut her door and let the answerphone do the work.

And that’s the dilemma nurses face every day. They have to do so many tasks that constantly take them away from the bedside, that they not only fail the patient, they fail themselves. The vast majority set out to do a good job but feel, constantly that the odds are stacked against them. So, when criticized, either personally as or as a profession, many become bitter and very angry and that, of course, impacts on the patients they are trying to help. When they, or their relatives complain, the staff are defensive. Very quickly things go from bad to worse…much worse.

Day on day, people pontificate about patient care. Patients have to be safe. Patients deserve compassionate care. There are not enough nurses. Everyone writes about the problem, reports when things go wrong, but what is the solution? You can teach people how to deliver compassionate care, but many are insulted by the process. They know what they have to do, they are simply not given the right environment to deliver it.

A huge part of answer is more staff. But cutbacks make it impossible to give the levels required. So, what can be done?

Kissing it Better believes part the solution lies in the community. Young people, desperately in need of specific work experience who, under the strict supervision of their tutors, can use their specialised skills to complement the nursing care offered to patients and their relatives.

We invite students from universities, Further Education Colleges and schools to do parts of their course in hospitals and care homes, mainly with older people. So, beauty therapy students offer simple treatments by the bedside, music students sing or play instrumentals either as soloists or small groups, drama students read by the bedside or perform short familiar plays. The list is endless. The patients benefit not just from their wonderful skills but also from the time they have to chat to them afterwards. The students gain invaluable work experience in a challenging environment and that enhances their life skills and, through that, their employability. It’s a win/win.

But there are other, more subtle benefits too. With their bright chatter, their fun clothes and great smiles, they bring the outside world into an institution full of uniforms and strict regimes. Patients feel more in touch with their community. The students 'spark everyone up'. Staff enjoy the fun and, like the patients and their visitors, are energised by the experience. And when that happens, care improves.

It’s not rocket science. Through this initiative, thousands of students across the country are now making a huge difference to how patients feel about their care. Wherever they work, complaints are reduced and morale is raised. Staff respond to the lightened atmosphere. Patients who are entertained are easier to look after. They take a greater interest in their surroundings, are more inclined to move and to eat and drink. Their recovery is faster.

Whenever we are feeling down, most of us appreciate the friends who comes to cheer us up. We behave better and slowly we get our life back into perspective. We may not have felt able to actively seek their support, but when it is freely offered, it can be hugely welcome and highly beneficial.

In days gone by, without modern medicines or sophisticated equipment, people relied on each other to see them through difficult times. Nowadays, all too often, we turn to tablets or professionals when we need help. We call it progress but I’m not sure that’s right. It’s too easy to suggest to someone that they need help without first thinking what you can do to make a difference.

Kissing it Better is all about simple ideas. So simply think 'Do as you would be done by' and you won't go far wrong. See below.

If you agree with any, or all of the above, and think you can help, please call 01789 488018 or email

Jill Fraser

Jill Fraser

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