On Saturday I joined the nurses’ league of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospitals to celebrate their 85th Anniversary reunion. I am a great fan of nurses and the NHS having seen some of the best care across the NHS and I am often reminded that the most extra ordinary nursing care is seen in the ordinary acts carried out day after day by nurses.
Some present had joined the NHS in 1948 the year the NHS was formed and we spoke about the changes we had seen. Introduction of anti-biotics, increased life expectancy, more people are surviving of cancer although one in every two born after 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer in their life time and babies are surviving when we only would have dreamed of it.
I have to say that I am not sure I would have what it takes to nurse today – 12 hour shifts, the dependency of patients has increase, expectation of nurses has increased and public expectation has changed. And despite what is good about the NHS many of us will have stories when the NHS and nurses have lacked compassion.
Compassion is an interplay between the extent to which we recognize another’s need, the extent to which we share the suffering of another and the extent to which our recognition and our feeling prompt us to do something in a way that will be in the other’s best interest.
Compassion and care have been the concern of those involved in the Health Service across the centuries. Historically, developing the “compassionate character” was the impetus for care, and gave the nursing profession its ethos. In Florence Nightingale’s view, good nurses were good people who cultivated certain virtues or qualities in their character – one of which was compassion. Patients were expected to be the centre of all nurses’ thoughts. Nurses had to always be kind (but never emotional) because they were caring for living people, unlike plumbers or carpenters.
However, I have often reflected that nurses are a reflection of our society and reflect the compassion of our society.
A few years ago the Church of England published a report called Making sense of generation Y (Savage, S. Collins-Mayo, S. Mayo, B. and Cray, G. 2006 Church House Publishing ) which tells us that those who were born in the 1980’s and early 1990’s are a generation where happiness is the ideal.
Happiness is realised though being myself and connecting with others. Their narrative was about the immediate, immediate relationships and immediate satisfaction. Absent from their narrative was a sense of anything greater than themselves or anything beyond the immediate.
It appears that we live in a world which is increasingly defined by individualism. And in doing so we appear to be losing our sense of community where individualism is valued rather than the individual in community.
But all is not lost if you read beyond the headlines of the Making sense of Generation Y there is a sense that this generation is not mere materialist hedonists they deeply care about life, life as symbolized in the image of the newborn, children, the planet and animals. And I believe that all is not lost. There was that wonderful image after the resent London Marathon of Matthew Rees sacrificing his own achievement to help David Wyeth across the line and today is a symbol of that.
In a world which is becoming more complex nurses are rightly being trained to degree level and further and taking more roles but the demonstration of compassion becomes even more important. The demonstration of compassion is often simple – as demonstrated by our reading – Mark 2 verses 1-12.
We have five men. Four of them being stretcher bearers and the firth being the man taken to Jesus for healing; The man on the stretcher could not have got to Jesus on his own and the friends took him with no idea that Jesus was going to make any difference to the man. This wasn’t an easy task. They had to carry him along what was probable a dusty uneven road, they then had to carry him up onto the roof, then cut a hole in the roof and then lower him down. A man’s friends help lower him through a Palestinian house roof made of sticks and clay, laid across larger logs. Unsaid is what chaos this must have caused below as stubble and sticks begin falling on those gathered around Jesus. Suddenly, the paralytic lowered on his mat finds himself before Jesus, who surprised by such confidence on the part of his friends, saw their faith – he saw their faith and the story ends with the man being healed and leaving.
The man found himself in Jesus’ presence not because of his own faith but because of the faith and perseverance of his friends; he could not have got there on his own. They took him there not because they were going to gain and they took him there not knowing the outcome but because of their compassion for him.
Through compassion nurses have the ability to bring others into that place where they are healed. And yes just like the stretcher bearers in our reading the path is not always easy, hard work, frustration and persistence are characteristics that are required along with passion and compassion. But they like me believe in both nursing and the healthcare provision in this country.
Having trained at the Nightingale School of nursing I have a complex view of Florence Nightingale however she does continue to be a model for us as nurses.
Anne-Marie Rafferty (‘We can read Nightingale as a credo for compassion today’24 June, 2011 nursing times.net) writes “ We can read Nightingale as a credo for compassion today. She recognised that systems needed to foster and institutionalise compassion, and that small touches and details mattered. Leading by example, and embedding a code of behaviour that could be sustained even in your absence was and should remain our goal today.
The challenges we see in care are not new. We continue to fail the most vulnerable members of our society. We need to acknowledge there is a problem, accept responsibility and understand the dynamics of why some organisations succeed and others fail.
Clarity of purpose, moral courage and a coalition for action was Nightingale’s response to the call. We need to do likewise – to light and lead the way.”