Last month Mum mentioned she’d seen a talk advertised in the library, it was being held at our local hospital and was being given by Sarah Tobin. It was on a Monday evening, a day I worked at home, Mum was curious and thought it might be of interest to me from a work perspective. So we agreed we’d go and I did a quick google to find some info and came across this. The event was the first attempt at a Health Science Cafe event being held at the hospital and most importantly they’d be free parking, a small but important manner. If you were to play a word association game with anyone who has had anything more than casual use of the health service I’m confident it wouldn’t take long before they mentioned parking – finding a space only being half the battle. Anyhow, I digress, this was an early evening event with free parking and Sarah Tobin, what was not to like.
Who is this Sarah I hear you ask? Sarah was one of the many professionals who provided support for my Dad, and all of his family, when he was first diagnosed and through his treatment for bile duct cancer. Specialist nurses are worth their wait in gold, they have intricate knowledge of what you are facing, have always made themselves readily available, always *always* return your phonecall if you have to make one, have the ability to unlock doors and generally give a sense of confidence in a quite daunting experience. I guess you could think of them as nursing sherpas who guide you through it all….we were lucky to have the support of several different ones and they all helped enormously.
Last Monday we arrived at Torbay Hospital, parked up and I checked in on Foursquare and was delighted to see I’d not been to the hospital in nearly six months. Dad died last November and until then I think I had visited at least every four months and in the latter stages of his life far more frequently, with a large number of visits as an emergency admission. The last time I’d been at the hospital was to drop Mum up to deliver thank you tins of chocolates to the staff who had cared for Dad. I still wasn’t really sure what to expect but off we went.
We were greeted by Helen, the Trust librarian who came up with the idea of the Health Science Cafe at Torbay. She had mentioned in the press release linked above that she felt it was important for people to have the chance to visit the hospital site for occasions other than just to meet medical need. One of my take home thoughts from the evening was how good it had been for me to return to the hospital that has played such a significant role in our lives over the last five years, with a positive reason. To drive up without the nagging doubts, the butterflies, the anxiety, the stress. To be honest it felt a little odd, after we’d parked up I had to remind myself that there was nothing to worry about!
The talk was very informal, there were about ten of us there although I think most people were previously associated with the hospital in some formal way. Sarah introduced herself, she now works 0.5 as a specialist nurse and 0.5 in teaching and education. She told us a little of her own personal experience, and indeed what fuels her interest in this area, and about her masters that focused on whether you can teach compassion and her current PhD studies in the same area.
She went on to talk about a number of key approaches adopted within SDHT (South Devon Healthcare Trust) to support work on compassion. These included:
Patient storytelling – this was introduced as a benefit to patients, where they are given the opportunity to share their experience. Their experience is tape recorded, transcribed and then shared with teams in a facilitated discussion designed to identify future improvements.
Observations in care – after a day long training session people are given 2o minutes to observe a ward/healthcare experience. Observers work in pairs, they note down what they see, hear and smell, purely as objective observations with no reasoning or judgement attached to them. They compare and contrast their notes after 20 mins and feed back to the staff members they have observed.
Schwartz rounds – this approach developed in the US at The Schwartz Centre and piloted in the UK by the Kings Fund provide a monthly, one-hour session for hospital staff to discuss difficult emotional and social issues arising from patient care.
Other approaches discussed included the development of a Leadership Programme for nurse leaders and ward managers, the introduction of the Friends and Family test, and Jeremy Hunt’s new requirement that nurses work for a year as healthcare assistants before training. The discussion was wider than just the steps taken to increase compassion, we also discussed the issue of complaints (90% focus on communication in some way), the changing shape of training over the years to include a greater focus on communication skills, the balance of positive to negative feedback (3:1), pride in nursing, how to gather feedback to get a hospital wide picture, the number of patients in hospital and their reasons for being there (80% of the surgery carried out at Torbay is now done as day surgery – this leads to changing methods of patient care, changing demographic of inpatients and so on).
Media Impact Mention was also made of the media and the negative expectations that many people have of hospital care, before experiencing it for themselves or those they care for. Initial analysis of the Friends and Family test feedback at Torbay commonly reports ‘it was loads better than I was expecting’. The local paper had been invited to advertise the Health Science Cafe and run a story on it, they had declined the opportunity. I can’t help but feel bad news sells more newspapers than good! Maybe they’ll get behind the later events, perhaps even send a reporter along to share with a wider audience.
Our discussion of the impact of the media also extended as far as two fly on the wall documentaries currently showing on TV, 24 Hours in A&E filmed at King’s College Hospital now in it’s third series, and Keeping Britain Alive: the NHS in a day filmed across the NHS on Thursday 18 October. I have a real interest in these documentaries, part morbid fascination with something new, part as an example of human behaviour and within that the compassion captured, part also as a reminder of how lucky we are to have a national health service.
While I imagine only certain people are interested in these programmes (best viewing figures for an episode of 24hours in A&E just top 3million people, Eastenders and Coronation Street routinely get double or three times that), that is still a large pool of people who do appear interested in this user generated content. One Born Every Minute, another Channel 4 documentary series now in it’s fourth series is set in an NHS Maternity Ward and clocks viewing figures of almost 5million; it’s not clear what exactly it is that people are interested in but I’d hazard a guess that it is part real-life stories that could as easily feature us and our family members as players that attracts them. Thinking about the three approaches Sarah had discussed one of the common features of them is reflected in this documentary approach, they all give a real-life focus and focus on the experience (of patients or staff) and allow for reflection on that experience as a prompt to identifying learning points, or building resilience, and also in humanising people.
This blog post was designed to share the experience a little more widely, partly because I was left with quite a few ideas and questions I’d like to think of further, so your own thoughts and experiences are very welcome. A lot of my thoughts were about how it’s possible to create a common team/organisation wide focus that focuses on an individual’s experience of compassion; how you define, or develop a shared definition of compassion; how you keep learning and reflections alive and tangible; whether there is enough focus on positive feedback as well as negative; how important and value laden compassion is – perspective being key; whether certain environmental circumstances are likely to reduce, or increase, compassion; and whether greater focus on staff members’s as individual’s could create behaviours among patients that increase their own chance of being treated compassionately (and vice versa)! What do you think?