‘The core of our NHS? Compassion’

Professor Michael West tells UNISON health conference that compassion and the one-team approach are key

“What is the core of our NHS?” asked guest speaker Professor Michael West, when he addressed UNISON’s health conference in Brighton this morning on developing positive workplace cultures in the NHS.

“It’s all about compassion,” he continued.

And he praised health workers, who had chosen to “dedicate an enormous part of their lives to caring for fellow human beings.”

Professor West, a senior fellow with the King’s Fund and professor of work and organisational psychology at Lancaster University, continued: “Our challenge is to discover how we can best support the people who work in the NHS to do what it is they want to do: to deliver high-quality care … to deliver compassionate care.”

There were six areas that organisations should focus on:

  • prioritising a vision focused on quality;
  • clear goals at every level;
  • good people management and employee engagement;
  • continuous learning and quality improvement;
  • team working, cooperation and integration; and
  • a value-based, collective leadership strategy.

Stress in the workplace is disproportionately high within the NHS and this damages not only health workers but also those they work for, observed Professor West, describing the difficulty a health worker would have in behaving in a caring, empathetic way while dealing with their own feelings of stress.

But stress doesn’t have to be part of the job, he noted, listing four trusts that have achieved low stress levels: Royal Wolverhampton hospitals, St Helens and Knowsley, Bedford and Frimley Park.

He described the importance of the role of effective teams in reducing stress, emphasising the need for UNISON’s One Team for Patient Care campaign.