Where has the compassion, caring and empathy gone? - Veterinary Practice
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Where has the compassion, caring and empathy gone?

continues the series of reflections on
issues of current concern

IT comes round as regular as clockwork, doesn’t it? The latest Government report, this time from the Care Quality Commission, has once again told us that the care being given (denied would be a better term) to the elderly in a substantial number of hospitals is, quite simply, appalling. People left lying in their own excrement; meals being served to patients when they are asleep so that when they wake, food that started off with low palatability is now completely inedible; call buzzers being ignored or taken away; drinking water placed out of a patient’s reach so that he or she becomes dehydrated; patients talked across as though they don’t exist. Surely we were told this by another report not so very long ago and by another one a little before that too. Didn’t someone each time say that lessons must be learned so that this sort of thing never happens again? For those of us on the wrong side of middle age, the thought of what might be awaiting us not that many years down the line is quite frankly terrifying. I listened with incredulity to the explanations being offered as to why this sorry state of affairs had occurred … yet again. Hospital managers and senior members of the nursing profession, whilst admitting the situation was unacceptable, seemed to be able to rationalise what was happening as though it was simply a case of revamping the procedures and protocols.

Sack and prosecute them!

I wanted to shout at the radio, “You need to sack the …tards, and if the law’s been broken [as the report claims it has been in many cases], then prosecute them too.” But just as DEFRA failed to
prosecute the Cheale Meats abattoir owners for animal welfare breaches, I am confident that no one will see fit to prosecute the Hospital Trusts that have presided over this mess. The cries of “We must learn from the mistakes and never let it happen again,” will no doubt reverberate around, mingling with the self-same cries from the past. Why has it happened? During some of the interviews and discussions on the matter that I heard, there was much talk about inadequate training. Nurses now receive a large part of their instruction in the classroom with less time in placements on the wards. But if this is being offered up as some of sort of explanation for the deficiencies discovered at numerous hospitals, then the point is being missed by a very wide mile indeed. Surely you can train anyone with a modicum of empathy, compassion and intellect, in less than half a day, to wash and change someone who is lying in excrement. Surely you can train someone in less than half a day to bring someone their food when they are awake and to cut it up for them and help them to eat it if necessary. Surely you can train someone in less than half a day to offer water to patients regularly and help them to drink it. And surely you don’t need to train anybody with an ounce of caring in
them to spend time talking to the patients and to treat them with respect. And if the carers possess no sense of caring or compassion or empathy, why on earth are they employed in the
first place? In my opinion, the problem is not rooted in a lack of training. It can only be that a culture of indifference has been allowed to flourish by those with direct responsibility for supervising the care. Which would explain why wards with good care and those with bad have been found alongside each other
in the same hospital. In addition, the culture of a taskorientated approach managed by “tick box” has kept the “bean counters”
happy but has done nothing for the comfort of the patient. And the nurses and carers have plainly lost sight of the fact that they are dealing with a whole person rather than with an “object”
with a documented set of problems that must be addressed.

Insatiable demands

Expertly addressing a set of problems, whilst miserably failing to care for the whole person, is the now welldocumented outcome. It is, of course, but a small leap from the human field to the veterinary one. Vets and veterinary nurses (like doctors and human nurses) are more highly qualified than ever before. Veterinary medicine is moving forward rapidly, driven by advances in the human field. Far more can now be done for animals, both medically and surgically, and the demands from a
better informed public seem in some ways insatiable. However, advances in the treatments for animals do not automatically equate to better treatment or improvements in animal welfare. Remember too that you can have all the care plans in the world, carefully ticked and beautifully maintained, but they cannot guarantee the welfare of the animal if the person caring for it has no compassion for it. Spending time with hospitalised animals (except perhaps those who shun human company) can make all the difference to an animal’s mental well-being and ultimately the outcome of its treatment. Making time to talk to it and comfort it; stroke it and help it to eat; wipe its eyes and its bottom when necessary – it all helps to keep its spirits up and make a good recovery. Perhaps what is also underestimated is that giving care also makes a difference to the mental wellbeing of the person doing the caring. Giving care is a bit like giving to charity: it makes you feel good about yourself – something that those nurses who so badly neglected their human patients would do well to consider. They, and all of us, need to take time to reflect on our actions at the end of each day or week and consider how we could have done things better and made a difference. Reflection and constructive selfcriticism is the way to ensure that the dreadful findings of the Care Quality Commission really aren’t allowed to happen again.

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