Caring to change: how compassionate leadership can stimulate innovation in health care

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Part of Compassionate and inclusive leadership

This paper looks at compassion - which involves attending, understanding, empathising and helping - as a core cultural value of the NHS and how compassionate leadership results in a working environment that encourages people to find new and improved ways of doing things.

It also describes four key elements of a culture for innovative, high-quality and continually improving care and what they mean for patients, staff and the wider organisation:

  • inspiring vision and strategy
  • positive inclusion and participation
  • enthusiastic team and cross-boundary working
  • support and autonomy for staff to innovate.

The paper also presents case studies of how compassionate leadership has led to innovation. This work was supported by the Health Foundation.

Key findings

  • Compassionate leadership activities have many positive outcomes, at all levels of the health sector, from individuals and teams, to organisations and the system as a whole.
  • Staff are more likely to find new and improved ways of doing things if they feel they are listened to, valued and supported as this provides a sense of psychological safety.
  • Giving staff autonomy in their work is also important, along with developing a shared responsibility – a shared leadership is much more effective than a hierarchical one.
  • Positive attitudes to diversity, to inclusion and to creativity and innovation must be nurtured at every level of the organisation.
  • Innovation is often spurred by a challenge or a problem and compassionate leadership is a powerful facilitator at each stage of the problem-solving process.

Policy implications

Most leadership development occurs through experience and observing and so the NHS needs to go beyond developing the compassionate leadership module on standardised training courses: there need to be leaders at every level of the NHS who are role-modelling the values and behaviours of compassionate leadership.

The recently published framework for action on improvement and leadership development in NHS-funded services advocates compassionate and inclusive leadership and this paper provides strong evidence to support the need for this type of leadership in the health sector if we are to innovate so that patients continue to receive high-quality care.

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Amsino Ray

Comment date
12 August 2017
The 'Care Plan' i have put together contains the same descriptors as the CHC 'Checklist' the GP involvement is OPEN to questions and whether they provide the necessary Health to these 'vulnerable' clients, or are they on the 'GRAVY' train?

Rita symons

Enhance Coaching and Consultancy
Comment date
02 June 2017
Great report. We will turn the tide. Compassionate leadership is not about being soft and fluffy. It makes good business sense. 'Cracking the whip ' does not produce sustainable change!

Pearl Baker

Independent Mental Health Advocate & Advisor/Carer/DWP Appointee/Deputy to COP,
Comment date
08 May 2017
The CQC Inspect Institutions, Dementia Homes, many failing, 'Requires improvements' and 'closed down' but who is 'LOOKING' out for these 'invisible' 'vulnerable' individuals?

I have been a Deputy for the COP for nearly a year, including a RPR for DoLS, during this time i have been able to look into how their 'Care Plan' should look? only those with experience in Mental Health (like myself) can see why everything is 'failing' the CQC are not 'fit for purpose' ? we ask why? the current CQC Inspection of Care/Nursing Homes do NOT request an interview with RPR for DoLS who regularly contact the homes with their Concerns, probably because most RPR has no idea what their 'JOB' is.

If you visit and find your relative is just getting up at 11.45 in the morning, you need to ask the question WHY? are they being over sedated at night, due to staff shortages, or is it because they have insufficient staff to manage the residents? second question is your concerns with hydration and nutrition, third question why are you giving someone with few teeth, danger of 'choking' stringy meat and cabbage, broad beans? fourth question who is checking they are eating a balanced diet? and 'Monitoring' their intake of food and drink?

I know the answers to the above: in my case it is ME, and who will insure there are changes: ME.

The 'Care Plan' i have put together contains the same descriptors as the CHC 'Checklist' the GP involvement is OPEN to questions and whether they provide the necessary Health to these 'vulnerable' clients, or are they on the 'GRAVY' train?

A copy of my proposed 'Care Plan' was forwarded on to the CQC, who were NOT interested as they Inspect differently, however this will be my relatives 'Care Plan' 'Care Plan' and YES i will have a copy with the date of the next meeting. I am confident my idea of a much more comprehensive 'Care Plan' will be introduced at this Nursing/Care Home for all the residents. I will be contacting the Owners of this Nursing/Care home with my concerns: two few Care staff to look after 52 Residents, divided into 'Dementia' Unit and Care/Nursing. The Dementia unit is small, many sitting together in one TV room, and very noisy: a 'take home pay' of over 4 million a year for the owners at a cost of

Danielle Horrigan

Transformation Manager,
Public Health Wales
Comment date
04 May 2017
Passionate about NHS and cardiac diagnostics innovation, digital E-Health and Leading NHS forward

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