Organising through Compassion: The Introduction of Meta-virtue Management in the NHS

Kirstine Z. Pedersen*, Anne Roelsgaard Obling

*Corresponding author for this work

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This paper investigates the comprehensive compassionate care reform programme within the National Health Service (NHS) in England. Through a synoptic reading of policy documents, we show how ‘compassion’ is introduced as an overarching meta‐virtue designed to govern relationships and formal positions in health care. Invoking an ‘ethics of office’ perspective, mainly drawing on the thinking of Max Weber, we evaluate the promotion of compassion as a managerial technology and argue how seemingly humanistic and value‐based approaches to healthcare management might have unintended consequences for the quality of care and the conduct of health professionals that in some ways resemble and in some ways exceed those of the more traditional New Public Management measures, which the new compassion paradigm is expected to outdo. In the paper's final sections, we turn to the original work of the nursing icon Florence Nightingale to argue that compassion and other virtues should continuously be formulated and re‐formulated in relation to the role‐specific skills and duties of particular offices in the healthcare sector.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)1338-1357
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019

Bibliographical note

Published online: 24. April 2019


  • Compassion
  • Healthcare management
  • Max Weber
  • The ethics of office
  • Florence Nightingale

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