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Nurses will be formally rated for their compassion

Stephen Adams
4 December 2012

Jane Cummings, the Chief Nursing Officer for England, will outline her vision for what she will call “a culture of compassionate care”.

Older people will be a particular focus of the initiative, which follows a series of reports of NHS staff treating patients poorly.

Last week Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary made it clear that he did not think cases such as that of a cancer patient who lost a third of his body fluid because staff did not check on him, were “isolated incidents”.

He said patients all too often experienced “coldness, resentment, indifference” and “even contempt” and accused the worst hospitals of “a kind of normalisation of cruelty”.

The national nursing strategy has been months in the planning and is not a reaction to short-term political pressure, however.

Shortly after being appointed to the post in the spring, Ms Cummings outlined her plans during a speech to health managers in Manchester.

[Related: Nurses design new embarrassment-free PJs]

She said her guiding principles would be “care, compassion, commitment and courage”, to which have been added two more “Cs”, competence and communication.

In an interview in the summer she said she wanted to restore pride to the profession, which has been severely dented by the scandal at Mid Staffordshire hospitals.

Up to 1,200 patients are thought to have died there over several years due to shocking care, which saw some resorting to drinking water from flower vases.

Faith in the profession, Ms Cummings admitted, was at “an all-time low”.

She said compassion was about “not what we do, but how we do it, treating patients with dignity and respect”.

Courage, she said, was about “being brave enough to do the right thing and speak up when you are not happy with something your organisation is doing”.

Discussions about the strategy with senior nurses and the Department of Health have included examining how nurses can be judged on how compassionate they are.

The draft strategy, which was put out for feedback over the autumn, mentions the need for “a strong appraisal system” to ensure that nurses have the right skills and attitudes.

Details of how compassion will be assessed could be outlined today.

Besides her professional experience, Ms Cummings also cared for her husband for six years before he died of a long-term illness. She has said this made her realise the importance of the human touch to nursing care.

Dr Peter Carter, the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, welcomed the vision as aiming to provide “high quality, compassionate care for patients, which makes it clear what nursing staff should strive for”.

He added: “We are also pleased to see that there is a focus on the importance of a motivated and well-supported workforce in delivering this vision.”

Julie Bailey, the founder of Cure the NHS, which she set up after her mother, Bella, died at Stafford Hospital following a routine hernia operation, gave the strategy a lukewarm reception.

“Staff need to get on and do the job and make sure that care is right first time,” she said. “They don’t need more strategies.”

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