Page last updated at 05:02 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

NHS 'fast losing its compassion'

By Jane Dreaper
BBC News health correspondent

Care worker and an elderly patient
Compassion is an essential part of nursing

There has been a deterioration in the level of compassion in the NHS in recent years, the head of a leading health think-tank has told the BBC.

The King's Fund is running a special project to try to get nurses and other staff to focus on being compassionate.

Its chief executive, Niall Dickson, said this was a fundamental issue that should be a top priority for every hospital board.

He blames work pressures for staff being less feeling.

It's to do with staff facing very difficult situations - because patients are sicker and hospital stays are shorter - rather than them all turning into nasty people
Mr Dickson

Compassion is listed as a core value in the draft constitution for the NHS in England, and the government is developing methods for measuring it.

Mr Dickson said: "I have very little doubt that we've seen a deterioration in the level of compassion that is shown by staff to patients.

"It's to do with staff facing very difficult situations - because patients are sicker and hospital stays are shorter - rather than them all turning into nasty people.

"If we can't get compassion into our healthcare, the system is failing. It's as fundamental as that.

"The board of every hospital should be looking at this as one of their top priorities - what is it like for someone who's coming in to be treated, and how can we improve that experience?"

The King's Fund is piloting an idea called "Schwartz rounds" at several NHS hospitals.

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This involves staff from various disciplines getting together every month to discuss the aspects of care that they have found difficult.

The Patients' Association's head of special projects and research, Vanessa Bourne, said: "Compassion is not an extra - it is an essential of nursing care.

"It comes in many forms: privacy, dignity and, above all, caring for others as you would wish to be cared for yourself."

There's a renewed emphasis on looking at the quality of patients' experience in the NHS, following Lord Darzi's review of the health service in England.

Ministers are strengthening the emphasis placed on patient views in rating NHS trusts.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Dignity and compassion in care are not a "nice to have". Nor are they an optional extra.

"They are core values of the NHS and are at the heart of what we are trying to achieve through the NHS Next Stage Review, 'High quality care for all'."

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