RCN conference: Nurses' compassion 'as important as skills'

New nurses should be judged on their compassion not just their skills, the NHS Confederation chairman is to say.

Sir Keith Pearson, who represents NHS managers, is due to address the Royal College of Nursing's (RCN) annual conference in Harrogate.

He is one of the authors of a critical report into standards of care for older people and is expected to call for big changes in the way staff are recruited.

The RCN has said that the best way to improve care is to have enough staff.

The Commission on Improving Dignity In Care for Older People has already made a series of recommendations to improve standards in hospitals and care homes in England.

It was set up following a series of critical reports into elderly care that highlighted some cases where care by front-line staff - including nurses - had failed.

'Culture change'

Now Sir Keith is expected to tell nurses directly that fundamental changes are needed "so that hospitals and care homes stamp out undignified care and ensure all patients and residents are treated with dignity and respect".

He will tell nurses gathered in Harrogate that there are plenty of examples of good practice, but that poor examples are cropping up far too frequently.

"The problem of poor care will only get worse if we don't act now to change the culture in our hospitals and care homes.

"But to change the culture, we also need to ensure we have staff with the right values and behaviours.

"That means changing the way we recruit and develop staff so that we recruit for values and train for skills."

He is expected to say that looking after older people in a compassionate way is not simply a matter of common sense and sympathy.

"On the contrary, older people are more likely to be suffering from a number of medical conditions which require skilled nursing to manage their care and their complex needs.

"Universities and employers need to do more work to make sure that current and future staff, not only have the relevant academic qualifications, but also the compassionate values needed to provide patient centred, dignified care."

When the commission published its first set of recommendations in February, Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, suggested the most important factor when it came to standards was ensuring there were enough staff.

"It is absolutely critical that hospitals and care homes employ safe numbers of nurses with the correct skill mix. This is the key challenge that must be met."

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