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Modern healthcare lacks compassion, says clinician

2 June 2008

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The increasing scope and sophistication of modern healthcare is putting strain on care and compassion in heath systems across the world, according to a debate paper from the NHS Confederation.

The paper, by Robin Youngson, a UK-trained anaesthetist and clinical leader living in New Zealand, says policy solutions such as incentives and penalties “fundamentally miss the point”.

Instead, Dr Youngson argues for “the need to focus on nurturing a humane quality of understanding suffering in others and the desire to do something about it.”

In the paper, entitled Compassion in healthcare: The missing dimension of healthcare reform?, Dr Youngson identifies the following things he believes will help strengthen the heart of healthcare globally:

  • Declare compassion as a core value.
  • Reward rather than punish compassionate caring.
  • Hone communication and relationship skills.
  • Provide space for staff to discuss difficult issues.
  • Challenge models of professionalism.
  • Hardwire new behaviours.
  • Declare compassion as a management and leadership competence.
  • Engage health consumers in the change.

Commenting on the paper, Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “Robin’s powerful case for change and call for action has strong resonance for the NHS.

“Compassion, safety and quality all seem to be part of a growing movement that requires a focus on the basics. This presents a major cultural, clinical, management and leadership challenge for which the NHS must prepare.

“Individuals within the system must also take action. Emphasis must be placed on staff taking a personal responsibility for behaving with compassion.”

NHS Confederation