Why compassion is so important in Health and Social Care delivery.... A service users perspective
I’ve always considered that compassion is a vital quality of anyone working in this sector. I’ve seen amazing work carried out by compassionate workers and I’ve seen significant disengagement from services users and clients in services where this is lacking.
I’d like to share with you an interview carried out with a service user who was involved with both health and social care services for many years.
Can you tell me a bit of background around your involvement with health and social care services?
In all honesty, I don’t remember a time when I haven’t had some form of ‘service’ in my life. When I was young it was the norm to have a social worker where I lived. You’d go somewhere and someone would ask your name, date of birth and social worker. It was a standard question.
I wouldn’t be unfair in saying that I don’t think any benefit was gained from just having a social worker at this time. I don’t recall any positive change.
I remember loads of different social workers as my mum fell out with them or they couldn’t handle her anymore.
There was also a probation officer around for my dad for a while and we also used to have lots of health visitor home visits for my youngest brother who had really poor behaviour. They tried everything with him but to me it was obvious that he was just reacting to the turbulence that he was born into and that continued to exist at home.
I left home quite young and had six months probably free of any services. I had a really destructive relationship with someone I met and ended up with a heroin habit. Not my finest hour. A school friend encouraged me to go to this NHS place and I basically walked into the reception when I was withdrawing and demanded a methadone prescription. Again, something that makes me cringe now but I was so desperate for help.
It seemed to take forever to get in there with an appointment but I eventually did and saw this drugs worker who was about the same age as my mum.
I’ve managed to avoid any other services since then, although after my baby was born the hospital tried to get social services involved.
During this time were there particular high or low points in terms of the support that you received?
The low point was the amount of change in social workers when I was growing up. There was no consistency, they didn’t seem interested when I tried to talk to them and it just added to the chaos.
The high point was meeting my drugs workers. I didn’t think it was going to go well as I thought she would try and behave like my mum but she didn’t at all. We didn’t even talk about drugs for the first session and she never made me feel as if I was being told off.
Are you able to reflect on the hardest part of this period in your life? What made this time especially hard?
The hardest part was probably being on my own before I met my drugs worker. I was scared more than anything. I felt so alone and things felt so desperate.
What support did you receive during this time from family, friends or any services you were involved with at the time?
I distanced myself from my family as they weren’t helpful. My boyfriend at the time ‘helped’ by giving me more heroin, so clearly that wasn’t the best. The only real help and support was my school friend who told me about the drug clinic.
What do you think is the most important quality that a health or social care worker can have?
Without a doubt compassion is the most important quality. It’s just vital, and to be compassionate from the start because those first impressions are crucial and set the tone for the relationship and how well things go.
Someone who is non-judgemental and just takes the time to listen to your story with a level of understanding that makes you feel you aren’t hopeless, or a lost cause is so important.
You need to be around people who can inspire you to change, not make you feel you are stupid for getting into that situation to begin with.
If you could change the way health and social care support was delivered what would you change and why?
I’d make sure that workers were better matched to service users. That is crucial I think. Give people choice.
There are so many overlaps, that I also think health and social care need to come together. I’m sure there is a lot of waste in terms of time and resources and communication between staff is really poor.
I also think that I’d encourage more work in the community, make services and staff more visible, less taboo. Again, it’s about choice and opportunity, but so many people can’t face going to a service and so don’t seek help.
I think I’d also make sure that every worker had training around how to treat people. You can’t teach compassion, but there needs to be some basic knowledge of what NOT to say and do at least.
I’d also make sure there was lots of work done in schools to change the perception of social workers as there is so much negativity and the cycle has to stop somewhere.
Do you consider yourself a compassionate worker? How much importance do you and your colleagues place on this element of service delivery? Let us know!