Nursing Times Award Winner

What is tender loving care?

Wherever Kissing it Better engages with a hospital, we seek out a Further Education college within its catchment area and invite the beauty therapy and hairdressing students to come and complete part of their course on a variety of wards and outpatient departments, under the strict supervision of their supervisors. During their time in the hospital, experienced hospital volunteers, and other members of staff, help with that supervision as well as ensuring they are looked after throughout their stay.

As a result of this initiative, hundreds of hours of free treatments are delivered to patients and their carers every month. Those people benefit, not only from the hair styling, hand massages, manicures and facials, but also from the gift of time given so freely. Many of the patients, particularly those on elderly care wards and dementia units, who may not get many, or any, visitors also appreciate the highly supervised loving touch that a gentle hand massage or manicure can offer.

I am struck by the power of this care whenever I visit my own hair stylist and his team at my local salon. Once every six weeks, for a few hours I benefit from that wonderfully healing environment. Many of the staff have been there for years and, those who are students all want to stay on after their training is completed. The atmosphere is both fun and unbelievably relaxing.

Just like the student therapists who visit the wards, those people who cut, and then cover the grey bits of my hair (quite a task these days) offer far more than hairdressing. Their wonderful listening skills enable clients to unwind, to talk without judgement about their everyday lives, their worries about their families, and their jobs, while they are being pampered. It is time out. It is a time when, for an hour or so, the world stands still. There are magazines to read, there are tea and biscuits to be enjoyed and, being local, there is also a chance to catch up with some local news or to recognise someone in the row of chairs whom you haven't seen for ages.

I come away with, not only an immaculate head of hair, but also a feeling that I have been nurtured and entertained.

Last Saturday one of the new students talked about her ambition to travel once she had qualified. But, she added that she wanted to check that, if she did go away for a while, that the door would be left open for her to return. Movingly, she added: "This is a wonderful place to work. Everyone cares about everyone else. It doesn't feel like coming to work. It's fun."

Many organisations, especially hospitals, could learn from that environment, created by a talented boss with a great sense of humour, imagination and compassion. He will have targets, but he has ensured that he has sufficient staff to make those targets achievable without stressing them. His extraordinary imagination has made the surroundings warm and fun. At Christmas, he transforms the whole area into a winter wonderland, and at Easter, he chose an 'Easter bonnet' theme by joining forces with a milliner to create a stunning exhibition of hats across the salon, the perfect way to set off a new hair-do or simply to make us all smile as we admire the wide range of colourful imaginative designs, all strategically placed around the room.

I don't know if his staff in that open plan area are all CRB checked. His leaflets aren't laminated to reduce infection risk and the staff use the sharpest scissors millimetres from my eyes. Yet, when most of us visit our hairdressers, we don't feel we are taking any undue risk. We see the certificates on the wall, we relax in the chair and submit to their skills. With everyone looking out for everyone else, I'd struggle to think of a safer, more relazing environment.

Sometimes when I visit a hospital, the sense of the intense rules and endless safeguarding checks that are forever being applied makes everyone feel so nervous and so tense that it is easy to get the sense that everyone around you is guilty until proved innocent. It is an atmosphere that can make everyone jumpy. Sadly, when you sense that atmosphere, you don't always feel safe.

So I urge hospital managers to learn from the pampering skills of a good hairdressing and beauty therapy team, to carefully observe how those patients and carers, lucky enough to benefit from their treatments, are affected by it.

I know of many hospital staff who could learn a great deal.


Jill Fraser

Jill Fraser

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