CHRISTIAN COMMENT: Care in the NHS

Anyone had a ‘nearest and dearest’ in hospital recently?

Yes, I’m commenting on, responding to, all the news about our culture of care in the NHS. Or the perceived lack of it. Doctors, nurses, managers – everyone and anyone involved in caring for patients has been getting it in the neck in these last few weeks... er, months.

Personal story number one. My mother was in Worthing hospital a couple of years back. She’d had a stroke and later died. Verdict: absolutely amazing care. My mother was fragile and weak, easy to neglect but she received the very best attention and consideration.

Story number two: my mother-in-law was in the same hospital a little later. On the ward, people were ignored, not taken to the toilet, not looked after and, yes, there were nurses standing around at times apparently doing nothing. Verdict: could do better – much better.

Which gives the more accurate assessment?

Both. Both these conditions are to be found in most hospitals, I suggest.

What’s going to make a difference? What’s going to bring the worst performing up to the standard of the best?

Management and systems can obviously contribute. If expectations are wrong and oversight patchy then care will probably not be good. But that’s no the whole story. The chief reason for lack of care must be in the quality of people offering it.

What does that mean? First that recruitment must focus on the way one person relates to others. And I’m not at all sure how you assess that, other than by asking for detailed references and then monitoring closely during a probation period. Second, there must be appreciation of what medical and nursing staff have to put up with. None of us does well under criticism and anyone who’s had to work in a negative atmosphere knows that.

Two months ago I witnessed a patient in a doctor’s surgery haranguing the receptionists. Within the five minutes – despite the zero-tolerance policy – everything in the surgery had changed. One person was in tears, another tight-lipped and unresponsive, even after the complainant had gone. Had that been a hospital ward, I can’t imagine much quality care being given for a while. Yet, at other times, that same surgery is quiet, happy, efficient.

‘Be kind to those who treat you badly’ says Jesus. ‘Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who disrespect you.’ And there’s a proverb that says ‘A gentle answer can deal with an angry approach.’

All those things are hard. They’re only possible if our own hearts are at peace. I can’t even act calm if I’m under stress inside.

Good systems and good management do make a lot of difference. Those are the things that people – including the Prime Minister – are calling for. They certainly reduce unnecessary stress at work. But you’re always going to get pressure – the demanding patient, the angry and frightened relative, the overworked colleague.

God knows we won’t react perfectly all the time. That’s why He provided a way of escape when we’re under pressure. Someone who always enables us, who responds when we call for back-up.

Many people have just been celebrating his birthday.

By Nigel O’Dwyer, who leads Goring New Life Church, and lives and works in Worthing.