Prince Charles backs empathy in healthcare

4th May 2012

The Prince of Wales has urged medical professionals to prioritise "empathy and compassion" in their treatment of patients.

In a speech at the College of Medicine's annual conference, the Prince said greater effort needs to be made to put patients at the heart of the healthcare process.

"Some commentators and observers have spoken of the need to restore urgently a climate of care and compassion at the heart of our health services. I find it quite extraordinary that there appears to some at least to be a gap here, especially when we are told that these so called 'soft skills' of caring can have a significant impact on the quality and pace of recovery amongst patients," he said.

The Prince expressed concern that empathy and compassion sometimes appeared to be lacking in treating patients.

He continued: "It therefore seems not unreasonable to pose the question - are we doing enough to ensure there is sufficient empathy and compassion instilled throughout training at medical schools and for the duration of hospital training? And should we not be doing more to enhance the amount of contact time and continuity of relationships between professionals and patients?"

"In short, it appears to many inside and outside the healthcare professions that our capacity for providing 'the human touch' has steadily decreased as science and technology have improved."

Earlier this year a report by the Commission on Improving Dignity in Care called for universities and professional bodies to "satisfy themselves that applicants have both the academic qualifications and the compassionate values needed to provide dignified care".

This could mean students being turned down for medicine or nursing courses if they fail to meet a set of criteria showing they are sufficiently compassionate.

Whilst accepting the importance of science and technology in medicine, the Prince advocated a more holistic approach to healthcare.

He said: "I have been saying for what seems a very long time that until we develop truly integrated systems - not simply treating the symptoms of disease, but actively creating health, putting the patient at the heart of the process by incorporating our core human elements of mind, body and spirit - we shall always struggle, in my view, with an over-emphasis on mechanistic, technological approaches."

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