Compassion and care work: a contested concept or a much needed
Objective: The need to deliver ‘compassionate care’ has been the cornerstone of the Coalition government’s response to the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry, a major public inquiry into failures in the delivery of care in a hospital in England. However, this has created some controversies around the extent to which ‘compassion’ is a universally agreed concept, the government’s role in defining professional capabilities, and the extent to which failures are attributable to a lack of compassion or other factors. Social care, too, has had its scandals and questions arise about the extent to which the concept of ‘compassionate care’ should also be applied to staff recruitment and training within social care. This paper aims to explore some of these themes using data from a Department of Health funded longitudinal study of the long term care workforce who work in social care settings. Data and methods: The data are drawn from semi-structured interviews with social care employers, care workers, and service users and carers undertaken in four different parts of England. Staff and employers were re-interviewed approximately 18 months later. Results: The need to recruit staff with a ‘caring personality’ or a ‘caring nature’ were important recurrent themes across all the interviews. These qualities were generally seen as innate, rather than something that could be taught. However, it was recognised that recruitment in social care was often so difficult that employers and service users and carers were not always able to exercise choice in whom they employed. Policy implications: ‘Compassionate care’ clearly has resonance for many of those delivering and receiving social care, despite the qualms felt by some professionals and some of those within the disability movement about the government’s approach. However, the multiple and competing demands on those delivering social care suggest that the policy remains more aspirational than implementable.
2 September 2014