The NHS Constitution for England says ‘we, the NHS, 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 those we serve and work alongside. We do not wait to be asked, because we care.’

This is our aim in the NHS and I doubt anyone disagrees.   Whilst many people and organisations hold these values they are not necessarily practiced and success is varied.   In organisations where these values are not endorsed, whilst to some degree a matter of the attitude of individual staff members, it is more about the culture of the organisation; the leadership and the value that is placed on patient experience, true patient experience.  

Compassion and leadershipare rarely linked.   Compassion can seem sentimental, implying a ‘softly-softly’ approach which might detract from outcomes and dilute hard decisions, hence the need to be more business-like.  We are moving towards a more business type model in the NHS.  I agree with this wholeheartedly, we all know there are inefficiencies in the system yet it is easy for people to gravitate to the default response to this which is ‘care will be affected’.   It might be and time will tell, but I am certain that it will be affected more if we let it be affected.   The challenge is that we as leaders in the NHS, in whatever capacity, have to work hard to prevent this.  That is you and me.  

The last few months have understandably been dominated with the White Paper and general musings about what the future holds.   There are significant concerns regarding maintaining, let alone improving quality of care in both the transition and the new world, these concerns are neither wrong nor surprising, but over the next weeks and months, whatever our respective roles, we should not forget the need for compassion.   We can be compassionate without any kind of paperwork or government strategy.  

Compassion doesn’t cost money; compassion doesn’t need a business case for approval or implementation, compassion isn’t associated with productivity or performance targets and compassion won’t demonstrate good financial return on investment.   Compassion will support the delivery of good patient care, it will highlight a positive organisational culture, will improve staff morale which will also improve quality and in turn will show that patients really do come first.  

If I think back to the complaints I have dealt with in the past, a majority were and I suspect still are, about poor communication and / or lack of compassion.   This might be rudeness of a staff member or not treating a patient as an individual or simply not communicating at all.  Being in hospital makes the strongest of us vulnerable, it is not particularly nice for those of us who know the system well so imagine how it is for those who don’t understand the system.

Patients are not bed numbers.  Patients are not ‘the hernia in C bay’.   Patients are not the MI in cubicle 3.  Positive patient experience is often down to the interaction between the patient and the staff, all staff.

Patients should be treated as individuals rather than numbers.   All too often when people complain we (the staff) are defensive and don’t really listen, we try and excuse the problem before we’ve even heard it when a lot of the time people just want to be listened to.   I suspect many of us will have heard or even said ‘patients don’t understand the system’ or patients ‘should be grateful for the care’.

Simple question.   How would we like to be treated if we were a patient?  Would we like to be kept waiting without being updated?  Would we like to hear people talking either about us or someone else’s care within ear shot?  Would we like to be cared for by someone not making eye contact or not wanting the very best for us or at least seeming that they do?   Eye contact and a smile used to be free; it’s not the patient’s fault that the system is changing.

How let down do we feel when we hear of a family member or friend who has not received good care.    Why don’t we feel that for all patients?   Why should the patients that we know get a better deal?   How have we created this two tier system – those that know someone in the NHS and those that don’t?   Some call these executive patients.  If this is the gateway to good care and for people to take notice then perhaps rather than advertising patient choice we should have a campaign that says ‘find a friend working in the NHS’.  

Let’s not get paralysed with policy in the current climate, we are talking about it so much there is a risk of taking our eye of the ball and the ball is our patients.   To the patient in a bed right now it doesn’t matter which government is in power.   This isn’t a numbers industry, it’s a people industry.   People should come before numbers.   Behind statistics lie individual experiences.   It is the individual experience which must not be forgotten when policies are being developed and implemented.    Showing compassion does not mean you are soft; compassion is a key component of leadership.   Communication and compassion are free and the return on patient experience is huge.   

To finish with a quote from Mother Theresa ‘we ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop’. Responding with humanity and kindness to each person’s pain, distress, anxiety or need can be achieved regardless of government standards and changes.   Very often it is the small things that make a difference.