Sunday, 9 December 2012

Nurses and other public servants

Reading Ann Clwyd's description of her husband's death, or more accurately the time leading up to his death is undeniably painful. Her wish for him to be as comfortable as possible when he could no longer help himself strikes a chord with me. My mother died around the same time as Ann Clwyd lost her husband, and so I have a pretty clear understanding of the emotions she must have felt. Being an MP her natural way to address what she feels is to launch a campaign for greater compassion in nursing.

However, our experiences diverge. Are nurses more or less compassionate than they were? It is impossible to know. While I can empathise with Ann's anger and her wish to do something, I cannot say I come the the same conclusions. The treatment Ann describes does sound at be neglectful, but that does not mean it is a universal problem within nursing. During the final year of my Mums life she, my bother and I encountered many nurses, doctors and other NHS staff, together with others who showed wonderful care and compassion. My Mum particularly valued the support of a team of oncology nurses at StHelier Hospital.

Whether one can teach compassion is questionable. What can be done is set clear standards for patient care that can be measured. What can also be done is ensure hospitals are properly resourced and are not chasing empty targets. What can be done is to ensure decent line management supervision of staff so that standards can be set, and maintained without the need for a vast supporting beaurocracy.

My own largely bicycle related encounters with the NHS have never suggested a lack of compassion. A lack of organisation, yes. Some poor interdepartmental relations, yes. The hospital where Ann Clwyd's husband died have serious questions to answer and issues to resolve, but I think to suggest there is a general lack of caring in nursing is wide of the mark.