Museum of the NHS

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Yesterday I was at the DoOD conference, a sparkling event full of people with passion and purpose talking about their contribution to the 5YFV and health care in 2020.


The event was held in Aldgate in London. The entrance to the event is auspicious, on one side the Museum of London and the other Virgin Active health club.

The Museum of London is one of my favourite museums, (not to be mistaken for the (British museum) and tells very evocatively about the lives of Londoners through generations. One of my favourite exhibitions is the People’s City Gallery. I love history being told through the stories of real, normal people – I can easily get full up of kings and queens but real people hold endless fascination for me. The People’s City Gallery tells the story of London through a number of generations and how the expansion created a more vibrant city but one where the fortunes of those rich and poor grew ever more separate, and the divisions in society rapidly escalated. Depressingly, those centres in London that housed the poorest in society, with the most health and social issues are pretty much the same now. Generations later the divisions have largely remained or grown, with few exceptions.

Opposite the museum sits Virgin Health Club. As I stumbled into the conference venue laden down with bags, dressed for work, carrying too much weight, I was passed by two of life’s beautiful people striding confidently with their toned abs, into the club. Virgin is like many health clubs – beyond the reach of most people, certainly of those people living on low incomes in many of the areas described in the museum and still suffering that inequality today.

Our real challenge as a society has to be this doesn’t it? Is our NHS there to make post hoc adjustments to quality of life and life expectancy to a group of our society who we fail in so many other ways? If the NHS is only there to patch people up in illness or accident the stark discrepancy in health, as in so many other walks of life will continue to grow not decrease.

The OD conference asked a panel of us to imagine being in 2020 and what we would hope for. My wish was that the NHS stopped being defined by the cathedral buildings housing the sick and dying and instead became part of every community. The staff of our national health service being expanded beyond the walls of our employees to include everyone in our nation playing their own part in their health and the health of our community.

This doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. If we look at how technology has transformed other service industries, how our patterns of behaviour in shopping, banking, entertainment, holidays, everything has changed. We can include that scale of revolution in how we define health and how we support health care.

But it does need a different kind of leadership – hugely competent, skilled, and knowledgeable with the right attitudes and behaviours to lead this seismic change. None of those things happen by accident which is why the Academy is here. To help leaders start to equip themselves with those skills, to have the confidence to give up power, to have the knowledge to help shape new ways of working, to have behaviours that engage, empower and excite staff and communities.

Our NHS can’t become its own museum – describing a past that we are holding onto rather than a future we can attain. We must leave the relics behind: central control squeezing out local ownership; brutal performance management focussed on the wrong things; inspection that depresses innovation not celebrates it; a deficit model that concentrates on problems not learning from success. Those relics of a past will form the basis of interesting stories to tell our children. We can’t let them be our future.

The room held people in whom I have best confidence and hope for a different future. But it will take each and every one of them, of us, to focus on what we can do differently to help create a new future. It’s our job to lead differently and about time we got on with it.

4 thoughts on “Museum of the NHS

  1. Inspirational writing – totally spot on in my humble view! I think through leadership the NHS needs a different relationship with each of us- a ‘rights & responsibilities’ type of engagement perhaps like an agreement virgin active might have with its members? What is it I need to do, if the state does xyz for me & the NHS helps me to do abc… a fundamentally different kind of relationship?

    1. Thanks Sue, and I agree – I think the notion of reciprocal accountabilities is spot on. We have to be able to have more adult relationships.

      Thanks for the comments

  2. Interesting topic. Exciting for the future of healthcare. Been doing Community Clinics for some years now – different models. Love the interaction with Community and specialist GP’s. So much to learn from each other.
    However IT – significant difficulty……

  3. Deirdre, agree – we’re at the foothills of what IT can help us do differently in the NHS and not quite sure why it is so difficult for us to get right?

    Thanks for the comments.