Compassion – be careful Jeremy

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of compassion in health and social care in the light of the word getting bandied about at every turn. It’s one of the 6 C’s – the big NHS push to respond to Francis. Jeremy Hunt our health secretary is really pushing it – telling his nursing staff to show compassion, put patients first and at the same time forget about complaining about insignificant pay rises.  But this is not a diatribe about pay and conditions, rather a call to Jeremy for a bit of humility. Dear Jeremy The word, ‘Compassion’, is fast becoming a cliche and I fear is bordering on the meaningless  – alongside words and phrases such as ‘dignity and respect’ – hugely powerful words  – used now as general guff in glossy leaflets of every care trust keen to show they are ‘on message’ (another awful phrase). The problem is that the abuse and bastardisation of these words is managed by PR (from you, Jeremy via  slick in house (in Trust) press officers and chief execs down to the front line)  and  so cannot be truly owned by front line care staff. Does it really work to be told – ‘you need to be compassionate’? Of course not. How patronising!  How dare you use that word to me, Jeremy! Are you the guru I admire on whose every word I would hang? No. There are one or two people in the world who could say that to me. I won’t name them but I can tell you they are people who have lived out a certain option in life, made sacrifices and lived with an admirable humility. They have lived, loved laughed and cried with the most vulnerable and dedicated their lives to that.  It is that experience that gives life and meaning to compassion. It is the daily experience building meaningful and mutually nourishing relationships (however transitory) over years and in making ourselves open (vulnerable) to making real connections that builds a true understanding of the meaning of compassion. Even then I’m not sure that is the right word. As an ‘A’ Level Latin Scholar (don’t tell your pal Michael Gove it was only an E Grade) I have gone back to the original meaning.  ‘Cum Passus’  – Literally ‘Suffering with’. It’s much more than holding hands, Jeremy.  I have thought a more appropriate word you are after is in fact ‘Communion’ – Literally ‘Union with’.  (Now don’t panic, Jeremy, – or should I say ‘Calm down, dear’-  just because it’s got the word ‘union’ in it). Being with those we care for, acknowledging the daily human encounter we are gifted every day, being able then to see beyond the shell of the broken body may go some way to equipping us with real compassion.  Front line staff need support to  get to that point and I’m afraid you’re not it, Jeremy.   I cannot swallow a call to compassion from a career politician.  You might want to start thinking of a few more C’s because you are wearing that one out before anyone gets a chance to really embed it into their culture.  I guess you’ve only got until next May.

One thought on “Compassion – be careful Jeremy

  1. Totally agree! My PhD (A passion for Compassion 2005) was an exploration of how I live this in my practice. A process that emerged over many years working with health and social care practitioners – not a quick fix for the media.

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