Opening up space for compassion in nurses’ handover meetings


  • Harriet Lloyd Cardiff University
  • Tom Bartlett University of Glasgow
  • Michelle Aldridge-Waddon Cardiff University
  • Tereza Spilioti Cardiff University
  • Virpi Ylänne Cardiff University



communities of practice, compassion talk, data-led analysis, handovers, non-scripted talk, patient safety


In this paper, we complement research into compassion in medical contexts with an analysis of the representation of patients in nursing handovers and the ways in which such practitioner–practitioner interaction can be said to demonstrate and evoke feelings of compassion towards patients. We label such representation as ‘Compassion Talk’ and suggest that potentially it can complement the information given as part of the standard format for handovers. The analysis is based on instances of non-scripted talk (NST) from three nursing handover meetings from a highly performing Medical Assessment Unit in the UK. In a data-led qualitative analysis, we find that within NST patients are represented in terms that not only make nurses’ actions to alleviate their suffering seem possible and necessary, but that also highlight their shared humanity and position the patients as if they are members of the nurses’ wider social group. We further demonstrate how NST can be successfully managed by experienced nursing staff and suggest, therefore, that handovers can function not only to pass on information accurately and concisely, but also as a space for nurses to regroup as a community of practice and to relate to their patients in human terms, as a defining principle of the profession.

Author Biographies

Harriet Lloyd, Cardiff University

Harriet Lloyd gained her PhD from Cardiff University in 2017. Her doctoral project used multimodal discourse analysis to examine talk and television representations of disadvantage in the UK. She has since worked as a researcher in projects on television representations of elections, devolved politics and industrial disputes, as well as intercultural communication and nursing handovers. She has lectured and supervised research at Cardiff University, University of the West of England, Middlesex University and University College London. She currently works as a Welsh Government social researcher.

Tom Bartlett, University of Glasgow

Tom Bartlett is Professor of Functional and Applied Linguistics at the University of Glasgow and Honorary Professor of Language and Communication Research at Cardiff University. His research interests are systemic functional linguistics and discourse analysis. He is the co-editor (with Gerard O’Grady) of The Routledge Handbook of Systemic Functional Linguistics (2017).

Michelle Aldridge-Waddon, Cardiff University

Michelle Aldridge is Reader in Language and Communication at Cardiff University. Her research interests focus on the communicative abilities and experiences of vulnerable people including children and adults with a communication disorder. She has published widely in peer-reviewed journals such as Applied Linguistics Review, International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, Text & Talk and WORD.

Tereza Spilioti, Cardiff University

Tereza Spilioti is Reader in Language and Communication at Cardiff University. Her research interests focus on social interaction and discourse in media and professional communication. She has published widely in peer-reviewed journals (Applied Linguistics Review; Discourse, Context & Media, Pragmatics and World Englishes) and has edited collections such as The Routledge Handbook of Language and Digital Communication (2016, Routledge) and Style, Mediation, and Change: Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Talking Media (2017, Oxford University Press).

Virpi Ylänne, Cardiff University

Virpi Ylänne is Senior Lecturer in Language and Communication at Cardiff University. Her research focuses on discourse, image and identity in areas of ageing as well as institutional talk. She has published widely in journals such as Discourse Studies, Journal of Sociolinguistics, Journal of Communication, Ageing and Society, Text and Talk and others, and edited Representing Ageing: Images and Identities (2012, Palgrave). She is currently preparing an edited volume on media and ageing.


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How to Cite

Lloyd, H., Bartlett, T., Aldridge-Waddon, M., Spilioti, T., & Ylänne, V. (2021). Opening up space for compassion in nurses’ handover meetings. Communication and Medicine, 16(3), 224–237.