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‘Care and Compassion?’

Written by Katie Clark, 15th February 2011

Today sees the publication of a report which concludes that the NHS is failing to provide even the most basic standards of care for older people. The health service ombudsman Ann Abraham has compiled the report in order to

Illuminate the gulf between the principles and values of the NHS Constitution and the felt reality of being an older person in the care of the NHS in England

If you wish to read the report itself and the case studies which highlight the experience of ten individuals within the NHS, you can find it here, though I warn you, it makes very uncomfortable reading, as Ann Abraham herself points out:

The findings of my investigations reveal an attitude – both personal and institutional – which fails to recognise the humanity and individuality of the people concerned and to respond to them with sensitivity, compassion and professionalism...

The NHS must close the gap between the promise of care and compassion outlined in its Constitution and the injustice that many older people experience

But with impending budget cuts on the horizon the big question is ‘how is that realistically going to happen?  The NHS is expected to save up to £20bn in England alone, and with 27,000 posts already earmarked to be lost, it is inevitable that there will be an impact on frontline care.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme earlier today, Professor Raymond Tallis said this is not a problem specific to the NHS, it is present in the private sector too. He believes problems in elderly care are partly because

people only value the things that can be counted

He said we need to reflect in depth and without prejudice on these stories and think about priorities in care, and avoid responding with ‘general training’ and tick box exercises for nurses.

In a society that values "glamour" above all else, he said, "hands on care" was "the least glamorous thing to do". You can listen to the interview here.

The Reader Organisation is working to deliver training to staff members working with elderly people in a range of settings including hospitals and care homes. Our anthology, A Little, Aloud, published last September is a wonderful resource for staff to use in reading one to one with someone they care for and we have designed a one day workshop in using the book.

There are a lot of people living here with a lot to offer, but we need to get that out of them, to ignite that spark. I think the poetry can do that and I’m here to learn how to use it.

Care Worker, Liverpool

What is striking about this training is that the focus is on recognising the humanity and individuality of people and creating a shared experience which allows real communication and pleasure for both the patient and the staff member. It is not a target driven exercise, but it cuts to the heart of the matter, and the real need for compassion in care.

For more details about this workshop and our training, please contact:

You can read more about A Little, Aloud including comments from people who have used the book to read about to someone they care for, on the A Little, Aloud blog.


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