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Compassion and openness are at the heart of good patient care but new laws to force candour must be carefully thought through, warns one of Britain’s top nurses.

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Putting compassion and aptitude at the heart of nursing will improve patient care but new laws to force candour may backfire, according to the head of the UK’s top rated nursing degree.

The Francis report into the Stafford Hospital scandal today recommends a new statutory obligation on doctors and nurses for a duty of candour so they are open with patients about mistakes.

Welcoming the report, Dr Jan Quallington, Head of the University of Worcester’s Institute of Health and Society, said openness was essential but creating an environment where candour was promoted from top to bottom would be more effective than the threat of legal action.

“It is essential that people are able to raise and discuss things they see going wrong and that student nurses are equipped to question practice and challenge the sub-standard,” she said. “But the way to encourage this openness needs to be carefully thought through. At Trust level a legal duty of candour could be very difficult because of potential litigation. A legal duty of candour could also expose professionals to frivolous and opportunist legal claims. It is important that people are held properly accountable, but most important of all is that poor care is tackled quickly so that patients do not suffer.”

Speaking after the launch of the final report by Robert Francis QC into the poor treatment at Stafford Hospital which contributed to the deaths of up to 1,200 patients, Dr Quallington said she particularly welcomed his call for an increased focus on compassion in the recruitment, training and education of nurses and the introduction of an aptitude test.

Worcester, which received a 100 per cent student satisfaction rating for its nursing degree and was ranked top in the UK in last year’s National Student Survey, has already embedded aptitude tests into its recruitment process.

“Our applicants have the opportunity to take part in simulated nursing duties, such as feeding and washing and are expected to discuss controversial issues with others,” Dr Quallington said. “They are observed not only by academic staff but by practising nurses and patients. We are looking for qualities such as kindness, common sense, emotional intelligence and compassion for others.”

Dr Quallington, who has been a nurse for 30 years, added: “I am very reassured by the report because it puts the patient back at the heart of care and will increase the strength of the nursing voice with a focus on nurse leadership at ward level. Regular updating of nurses is also absolutely essential as the demands on the profession change and become more complex. I particularly welcome the recommendation that there be a new status of registered nurse for the care of older patients who often have different needs.”