Putting compassion at the heart of healthcare

The health service has seen major scientific, medical and technological advances. But it is the human element – compassion and basic values and behaviours – that have never been more important.

In December 2012, I launched Compassion in Practice – the three year vision and strategy for nursing, midwifery and care staff. It was developed with Viv Bennett, Director of Nursing at the Department of Health and Public Health England and with nurses and midwives from all over England. It drew a fresh line in the sand.

The aim was to get back to the very essence of what great care means for patients and how we can put far reaching changes in place that translate into real improvements for our patients and the staff who care for them.

The launch of the vision followed an eight week engagement with over 9,000 nurses, midwives, care staff and patients. What came out clearly, and what has been the driving force behind Compassion in Practice, is the core values and behaviours that are absolutely essential to great care.

The result was the 6Cs – care, compassion, competence, communication, courage and commitment.

The last year has seen an unprecedented journey with a focus on responding to failings at Mid Staffordshire and Winterbourne View, the overriding question being: what do we need to do to ensure this is never repeated?

We are on a longer cultural journey to ensure the 6Cs are embedded in every corner of the health service – a culture where great care is at the heart of everything we do, of openness and transparency where people feel encouraged and supported to speak out about poor care.

It is this environment that ensures that all staff can deliver compassionate care to the best of their ability.

I have travelled the length and breadth of the country over the last year and it is clear that the 6Cs articulate the values of our staff who are committed to providing the best possible care.

The 6Cs are enabling staff to reconnect with their values and we have seen hundreds of examples where frontline staff, managers, educators and Board members are taking responsibility to ensure that they learn from mistakes made and to provide leadership at every level of their organisations.

The last year has been about communicating the ethos of the Compassion in Practice strategy throughout the service, to all health professionals, managers, educators and support staff, not only to nurses, midwives and care staff.

There is extensive qualitative evidence of the impact of the 6Cs in practice and some of the great examples of this are shared in the ‘Compassion in Practice: One Year On’ (this document is no longer available here but can be found on the National Archives website) report that was launched at my  Chief Nursing Officer’s conference in November last year.

A key part of this has been the growth of a social movement that has built around the 6Cs over the last year, focussed on the 6Cs Live! communications hub. There have been 3,230 online pledges of support for the campaign, the Twitter channel has 4,523 followers and a series of online webinars has been launched, where a growing number of participants share ideas and experiences around a particular topic related to the 6Cs.

This has been a key part of driving forward compassionate practice, not from the top down, but through learning and sharing of expertise and best practice throughout our nursing and midwifery workforce.

We know that enthusiasm for, and engagement in, the strategy that has taken root in this first year, and will lay the foundations for our further work to provide the quantitative data to measure improvement in our goal to deliver compassion in practice across all parts of the health and care services.

We are not complacent. We know we face many challenges, but I know we are up to the task.

Jane Cummings

Professor Jane Cummings is the Chief Nursing Officer for England and Executive Director at NHS England.

Jane specialised in emergency care and has held a wide variety of roles across the NHS including Director of Commissioning, Director of Nursing and Deputy Chief Executive.

In February 2004, she became the national lead for emergency care agreeing and implementing the 98% operational standard. She has also worked as the nursing advisor for emergency care. In January 2005, she was appointed as the National Implementation Director for ‘Choice’ and ‘Choose and Book’.

Jane moved to NHS North West in November 2007 where she held executive responsibility for the professional leadership of nursing, quality, performance as well as QIPP, commissioning and for a time Deputy Chief Executive Officer. In October 2011, she was appointed to the role of Chief Nurse for the North of England SHA Cluster.

She was appointed as Chief Nursing Officer for England in March 2012 and started full time in June 2012. Jane is the professional lead for all nurses and midwives in England (with the exception of public health) and published the ‘6Cs’ and ‘Compassion in Practice’ in December 2012, followed by publishing the ‘Leading Change, Adding Value’ framework in May 2016.

Jane has executive oversight of maternity, patient experience, learning disability and, in January 2016, became executive lead for Patient and Public Participation.

She was awarded Doctorates by Edge Hill University and by Bucks New University, and she is a visiting professor at Kingston University and St George’s University, London.

She is also Director and trustee for Macmillan Cancer Support and a clinical Ambassador for the Over the Wall Children’s Charity where she volunteers as a nurse providing care for children affected by serious illnesses.

Follow Jane on Twitter: @JaneMCummings.

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  1. david peach says:

    This compassion in practice all parts of the health service, will this include nursing homes where staff are minimal and poorly trained. I know this is not part of the NHS but the elderly are put in these after getting discharged from hospital or cannot manage at home.