The medical director of the NHS has announced that thousands of the doctors and nurses working within the healthcare system will be sent on courses in compassion and communication.
Prof Sir Bruce Keogh suggested that many doctors and nurses are failing to adequately listen to patients, and that the communication skills of healthcare professionals could be significantly improved.
The new initiative will be part of an overall national drive intended to help patients improve their health.
Keogh believes that the future of the NHS depends on coaching staff to have what he described as a “more equal conversation” with patients.
Such skills are needed to help patients tackle unhealthy lifestyles which have left the health service under unprecedented strain, according to Keogh.
Yet many nurses and doctors will undoubtedly believe that this is little short of patronising, and communication problems in the NHS are mainly caused by the undue pressure placed on rank-and-file healthcare professionals.
The national plan follows pilot schemes which have seen more than 2,000 doctors and nurses sent on two-day training courses, which have been funded by the NHS.
Dr Penny Newman, a former GP running the scheme, indicated her belief that staff require guidance on handling difficult conversations, with many people working within the NHS system guilty of lecturing patients rather than listening.
“People need to feel listened to – we know that just handing out advice doesn’t work,” she said. “It’s no good saying to a patient, ‘you need lose two stone, cut out the cakes. You need to ask ‘What is stopping you from losing the weight?’ so that the patient can develop a plan that works. The way we talk to patients is fundamentally important. If we don’t get it right we can make mistakes and we can miss an opportunity to change patients’ behaviour”.
Newman went on to suggest that proper communication could actually save both time and resources.
“The clinician has to be able to really listen, to understand and to be compassionate, in order for a patient to be able to speak comfortably,” she said. “It’s not about telling patients what to do.” If you don’t have a proper conversation with patients in the first place people just come back. It’s unsatisfying for the doctor as well as the patient and it doesn’t save resources”.
The aforementioned Keogh claimed that the training would help secure the future of the NHS.
“For the NHS to be sustainable, people need to become more active in managing their own health, wellbeing and care. They need to be supported to make good choices and more equal conversations, based on a strong partnership between clinician and patient, are vital for achieving this.”
Coaching could also play a role in ensuring that patients take adequate personal responsibility for their general health.
“By providing clinicians with new skills that help patients identify what’s most important to them, and tapping into their own internal motivation, evidence shows health coaching can also address health inequalities, improve health behaviours and reduce avoidable admissions,” Keogh commented.