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Intelligent Kindness: professional healthcare and the future of the UK NHS

Penny Campling


The concept of ‘intelligent kindness’ is important at all levels of healthcare from the personal, through teams and work organisations to the political. A virtuous circle is envisaged, based on what motivates and assures compassionate practice, affecting patient experience and linking to staff morale, effectiveness, efficiency and outcome. The UK NHS is a system that invites Society to value and attend to its deepest common interests; a vital expression of kinship that can improve if Society, patients and, especially, staff can reconnect to the powerful motivation and attentiveness inherent in such connectedness.

The healthcare task, however, puts us in touch with deep-seated, largely unconscious existential anxieties that can undermine the work and the organization. Not only are hospitals organized in a defensive structure against such anxieties - as described by Isobel Menzies Lyth, over 50 years ago - but these same anxieties drive the constant re-structurings that are so disruptive to the service and distracting from patient care. The forces at work in Society that threaten to undermine and fragment an ethical healthcare system are also described in relation to Susan Long’s thesis on the ‘perverse organisation’ - particularly the tendency to ‘turn a blind eye’ to the dangers of unmitigated market forces and industrialization.

It is argued within this article that a focus on intelligent kindness in healthcare is more urgent than ever and that such a focus could act as an integrating force, minimizing the potential for harmful fragmentation. Models of good practice are described and an active refocussing on kindness within healthcare professions is encouraged.


Case discussion, clinical communication, commodification, compassionate care, dehumanization, destructive, doctor-patient relationship, emotional pain, future of NHS, governance, industrialization, intelligent kindness, kinship, Mid-Staffordshire scandal

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