Challenging ideas of compassion in today’s NHS

Rachel Podolak, Head of Welsh Affairs, offers a preview of what to expect at ‘the compassionate doctor’ – our next Medical professionalism matters event in Cardiff.

Having attended our previous Medical professionalism matters evening in Bristol, I am particularly excited about welcoming the series to Cardiff on 19 November for the compassionate doctor event. It’s a great opportunity to bring a large number of doctors working in Wales together to reflect and share ideas. We have over 140 people signed up to attend so I am confident  the conversations will be fruitful. The title of this event got me thinking about what compassion means and how it can be expressed.

A quick Google came up with the following definition:

“A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”

This definition may be particularly accurate for the medical profession and in fact has strong echoes in Good Medical Practice (16c)

Take all possible steps to alleviate pain and distress whether or not a cure may be possible.

I’ve never met a doctor whose aim is to be un-compassionate. A recent tweet from Manchester University Ethic and Law summed the issue up:

Attendees deep in discussion

Attendees deep in discussion at our last Medical professionalism event in Newcastle

What do you think? Is it always possible to show compassion? If not, what stops you from being compassionate? Life can be hectic, work even more so, is there time to be compassionate? We will hear from Dr Daniel Baker, Clinical Fellow, about how the pressures facing junior doctors help or hinder compassionate care.

Dr Alys Cole King argues in her blog that compassion towards others must start with self-compassion. If we don’t look after ourselves, we may find it challenging to deliver effective care.

A lack of effective care and a prevalent blame culture were two of the themes evident in the Trusted to Care report, a review about two hospitals in ABMBU that also reflected on broader issues within the NHS in Wales. I am pleased that we have Mark Butler, who co-authored the report, speaking at our event as he will be best placed to help us understand more about what went wrong and what happened to compassionate care in this instance.

It is great that he will be joined on the panel by Jackie Smith from the NMC who will hopefully be able to shed some light on how all healthcare professionals, but particularly doctors and nurses, need to work together well to put  patients first and provide compassionate care.

Whilst this damning report gave food for thought to all involved in healthcare in Wales, there are also many initiatives, such as Cardiff University’s Ask One Question campaign and 1000 Lives’ work on patient stories that seek to improve patient experience. We are fortunate to be joined at the event by Mike Spencer from 1000 Lives, and I am keen to hear more about how patient stories have opened up the lines of communication between patients and staff. What small changes do you think would enable you to provide more compassionate care?

This communication between professionals and patients is important at all times, but becomes extremely pertinent within palliative care. That’s why I am delighted that we will also be joined by Professor Ilora Finlay who, as Chair of Trustees for the National Council of Palliative Care, will share her unique insights into her experience as a palliative care consultant.

It’s not all about the panellists though! The event is really about hearing from frontline doctors and people involved in education. We’re keen to hear from you, so come prepared to answer questions such as is it really possible for doctors to be empathetic carers in today’s NHS? And can you really teach empathy?

If you are unable to join us, we still want to hear your thoughts –  post your comments below and join the discussion using #gooddoctors.

I hope to see you there or speak to you on Twitter on the night!

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