We have to respect each other if we want a compassionate culture in patient care ……..

For some patient groups replacing values such as dignity and respect with ‘value for money’ has reduced patients, in particular older people, to a percentile of spending of tax payers money, rather than being viewed as actual people, people who at some point may require care, help and support

The BBC expose poor patient care on Panorama, whilst earlier this year The Telegraph suggests the treatment of older people in care is now so bad that it meets the legal definition of torture according to the Governments own human rights watchdog. How many more news reports do we have to watch and read before society and government decide to react positively and engage in change, or have we reached the point of ‘compassion fatigue’?

Sadly this is not new to many of us who have worked in the care sector. Yet our voices have gone unheard, leading to many, such as myself, leaving the profession. Last year a report by the Health Service Ombudsman on care in hospital settings suggest there is a culture of indifference from both government and staff to some patients.

Doing nothing is not an option.  The current discussions on the care of patients needs to change, we have reached the point where ‘cost’ is king, every aspect of care system is framed in the language of economics. Government and society are so focused on the cost of care they have lost sight of the value of caring to society, from a moral and ethical perspective. For some patient groups replacing values such as dignity and respect with ‘value for money’ has reduced some patients, in particular older people, to a percentile of spending of tax payers money, rather than being viewed as actual people, people who at some point may require additional help and support, through no fault of their own but as a natural process of ageing. Indeed the focus on cost diverts our attention from the real issue, we as a society are, at best, indifferent to many vulnerable groups, especially the plight of older people.

Our ability to be aware of these issues, to watch programmes and read report after report yet do nothing to change our attitude is disturbing, maybe society is experiencing ‘compassion fatigue’?

Real change can only occur if built on a foundation of respect for people. Developing a culture of dignity and respect for others requires more than codes of practice to guide the carers who look after patients. We all have to develop a much deeper understanding of what ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’ actually mean and how we demonstrate dignity and respect to one another, starting firstly with ourselves. Arguably if individuals respected themselves they would not allow themselves to act in such a way that is uncaring toward those they care for.

It is with shame that we should read the treatment of older people in care is now so bad that it meets the legal definition of torture. Let us hope the response to these recent revelations are resourced adequately and really embedded across the health and social care system, but we as a society also have a role to play, we need to learn to treat one another with dignity and respect on a daily basis, wherever we are and in whatever we do, whether as a carer, nurse, social worker or patient. That would change things a lot quicker than policies and endless new initiatives.

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About digalpin

I gained my social work qualification from the University of Southampton and worked for 14 years in mental health, disability and older people services. I am currently a senior lecturer in post-qualifying social work at Bournemouth University and am conducting research on government and societal attitudes and responses to the mistreatment of older people in health and social care provision for my doctorate. My views are my own.

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