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Reasserting our compassion in the NHS

Posted on 12th June 2017

The character of compassion has been heavily discussed in the context of health care, particularly since the publication of the Francis Report into the events at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

The exploration of this notion has tended to centre around the question of how practitioners as individuals can ensure that compassion is placed at the very heart of their care. It is presupposed that, to an extent, those people have lost their way in some distinct and individualised fashion and need to be directed back.

Fortunately, there is a burgeoning recognition that compassion is developed across a system through the intersection of three contextual factors. If there is concern that compassion is no longer sitting at the centre of clinical practice, then this reflects the fact that our organisations are not creating a climate where compassion can flourish and are not allowing their employees the time and space to reflect on and explore their self-compassion. This is broadly acknowledged now in the recently published NHS document, entitled Developing People, Improving Care.

This fresh take on the question of enhancing compassion in health care foregrounds the vital importance of values-based leadership, a practice that actively seeks to reconnect the work of the organisation with its main purpose and with the intrinsic motivation of the dedicated people, who work to provide the highest possible quality of care to patients and service users. With compassion at the core of this, the links with inclusion and engagement – with benefits in terms of grassroots morale and innovation – become apparent.

To support this, the London Leadership Academy (LLA) has worked alongside Katy Steward and Byron Lee to offer a fresh new programme entitled Compassion as a Bridge to Engagement (CBE). Delivered over five days across three months, it offers two modules and two action learning sessions to health and social care leaders to explore this topic. The programme includes a field visit to organisations out with the NHS that truly embody compassionate practice, in order to allow participants to return to their values and pull that experience across into their day to day practice as leaders. We are running the programme at the Royal Foundation of St Katherine in Limehouse, a peaceful inner city retreat that is perfectly suited to reflection, mindfulness and deep thinking.

The key question, of course, is: what next? Well, there is a need for us to undertake a robust review of the programme with participants, especially as this is a longer programme for us at the LLA. And this review needs to include at its centre encouraging the participants not just to describe their experience and its practical implications but also to help us to address how we might develop our work in this area.

Our initial thoughts are simple: we want to explore how we might best help people to develop their capacity for self-compassion, which, as was noted earlier, is a key strut that supports the wider expression of compassion in care. Additionally, we are motivated to convene a pan-London event – provisionally entitled London is Open(minded) – that will aim to offer a space where people from across health and social care can meet to draw together the intimately linked topics of compassion, inclusion, systems working, engagement and innovation. So often, these are viewed as discrete issues, when it is increasingly apparent that they thread together seamlessly and cannot be viewed separately without losing a significant part of this wider picture.

Making time and space for people to put their heads together, to reflect and to converse in a supportive and creative environment, will permit them to make better sense of the new context of care, the challenges that are being faced therein, and how those might be addressed from a truly radical perspective, both individually, collectively and, of course, with compassion.

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June Newsletter

This month Mark Cole reflects on the importance of Compassion as a Bridge to Engagement, Jo Simpson conducts a masterclass on 22nd June, the applications for the Nye Bevan Programme for Aspiring Directors close on Monday 26th June, the Digital Health Leaders Masterclass Series takes place on 22nd June, and the Capital People’s Journaling for Change programme kicks off in July.

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