First Person: Compassion is the greatest gift we have to give
Our Faculty of Health and Life Sciences is dedicating this week to the vital issue of care and compassion for patients, writes Dominic Shellard. Through public debates and lectures, the Care and Compassion Initiative will focus on how we ensure students in nursing, midwifery, social care and speech and language therapy listen to patients and care for them with dignity, respect and professionalism at all times.
You may think this is all a bit obvious. Why would anyone who goes into any sort of healthcare profession act any differently?
But last year the Health Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, created a storm when she wrote a report for Parliament highlighting 10 shocking incidents where care and compassion appeared to have vanished from the hospital wards and GPs' surgeries altogether.
A man was admitted to a psychiatric ward, treated for a mental illness without a proper health assessment and died two weeks later from pneumonia. A woman went for weeks without sufficient pain relief for lung cancer, because she was waiting for a diagnosis.
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And an elderly man was left forgotten in a waiting room while hospital staff decided they should not resuscitate his 82-year-old wife. Only afterwards did the staff realise where her husband was and that he had been denied the right to be with his wife when she died.
All 10 reports are, frankly, inexcusable. But how do we prevent incidents like this happening again? It is incredibly complex and will not be solved within this column.
Nurses, quite rightly, continue to be held in high esteem in society. When it comes to healthcare, the good far outweighs the bad. It is no coincidence our men and women on the frontline of the NHS are known as "Angels".
We also know there are political issues surrounding funding, and whether the number of nurses on a ward is sufficient to cope with the demands of patients – and other staff. This needs to be dealt with, and fast.
It should also be noted the Health Foundation, a charity promoting excellence in care, has said staff do not need any more blame and condemnation; they need sustained supervision and support.
De Montfort University must play its part. Hundreds of nurses, midwives, social workers and speech and language therapists graduate from here each year, then go on to care for millions of men, women and children around Britain. That is why our Care and Compassion Initiative is essential. We pride ourselves on preparing our students for a career in which the patient is the cherished focus of attention.
And we must never lose sight of the fact that focusing on care and compassion is not a gut reaction to an Ombudsman's damning report – it is non-negotiable.
See how you can take part at www.dmu.ac.uk/careandcompassion
Dominic Shellard is vice-chancellor De Montfort University