Is it just me?

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Is it just me, or is the conversation changing in the NHS? I had a fairly typical list of engagements the other day, it went something like this.

Paul O'NeillI turned up to a leadership seminar only to find it had been cancelled, however this facilitated an impromptu meeting with a Chief Executive of a local NHS Foundation Trust – he suddenly had unexpected room in his diary too due to the cancellation; every cloud…

We spent a good quality hour and a half discussing his organisation, the way it works, the pressures it faces, what they are doing internally on leadership and organisational development, the effectiveness of the board and his own style and potential development desires.

It was striking how much we talked about compassion for patients, the need for staff to be kind to each other, the need for senior leaders like himself to show a caring attitude to all the staff employed. He described how at their Board meetings they always start with a patient’s story and how they look at and try to understand what the narrative behind complaints or serious incidents are, rather than just looking at the numbers.

I spent the afternoon with my own team planning what leadership development offers we were going to put together for the rest of the year following a consultation event with all of the Trusts and CCGs in the area. We focussed almost exclusively on how effective leadership could make a difference to patient care and create the right kind of climate, teams and culture.

We didn’t talk about budgets much – enough – but not much. We didn’t talk about how ‘career enhancing’ a particular programme might be, we talked about return on investment (ROI) in terms of patient benefit and equipping staff better to do their difficult jobs.

I went home, did the family stuff and later on, downloaded a book I’d been hearing a great buzz about, ‘Intelligent Kindness’ (John Ballatt and Penelope Campling) and started reading it – only a chapter or two in, but already I would say it’s required reading in this post-Francis world. Its central tenet is the place kindness, properly understood and applied, is key to reforming the NHS.

I work in a privileged bit of the NHS, I’m surrounded by positive ‘can-do’ people aiming to help others do their jobs better and lead well. I don’t work in an area where patients are in pain, anxious, distressed or intoxicated and feeling ignored, angry or confused and I don’t have to manage A&E with the 4 hour waits target or battle directly with ‘winter pressures’ but my point is this.

I believe organisations change and the best ideas begin with a conversation. Looking back over the years, I think the conversation is changing to one where the patient is central, not an afterthought, a conversation that concerns itself with how staff will feel and acknowledges that sometimes what we are expecting our front line staff to do is extraordinary in terms of the skills it requires and levels of distress it exposes them to. Whilst we have all known this we have focussed on the ‘how to do it now’ rather than ‘what’s the best way of doing this’, but I am optimistic that a more thoughtful approach is emerging.

So I ask again – is it just me or is the conversation changing in the NHS?

2 thoughts on “Is it just me?

  1. Hi Paul
    Just come back from a retreat where the significance and power of kindness – to ourselves and each other, has been forefront in my awareness. My first meeting back had this as its theme – given the challenges we undoubtedly face, how do we face them together, take care of each other and enable each other to provide the services we all want for patients. We know that under stress, none of us show our most empathic and resourceful selves, so in a system that is likely to be more challenged than ever before, how do we support ourselves, our teams and our leaders to respond to the challenge and not the stress, to be the best we can be and not the least, the most tired, the threadbare?
    I am inspired by Isaac Pennington:
    “Our lives are love and peace and tenderness
    and bearing one with another
    and forgiving one another
    and not laying accusations one against another but
    … helping one another up with a tender hand”
    The challenge is in the practice….
    Jo