To push or to pull a wheelchair – a short story about the power of empathy
  • 09
  • 08

A few years ago I made a short film on dementia for Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust called Barbara’s Story. The short drama told the story of an elderly lady with dementia visiting hospital for a cardiology appointment.

One of the scenes showed how disorientating it can be for a patient to be pulled through the corridor in a wheelchair. Soon after the film had been shown to all staff, the porters took it upon themselves to try and push the wheelchairs forward to improve the experience for patients. It soon became clear this was easier said than done as it was discovered the wheelchairs weren’t designed to be pushed forwards. Further investigation by the leadership team revealed pull wheelchairs had been brought in to prevent them being stolen by the public. On the face of it, this appears to be a sensible cost saving decision, however once you bring that decision into an emotional context, it takes on a whole different meaning.

Essentially the power of empathy in the film had not only emboldened the front-line staff to act differently it had given a renewed clarity to the leadership team in a way, graphs, charts, trends would never have achieved.

My understanding is the Trust has started to replace the wheelchairs with ones that can be pushed forwards.

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