What Lies Beneath?

Do you sometimes wonder what is really going on? As the furore around the planned 5-day strikes by junior doctors unfolds, with all the clamour and the noise, the positioning, the power plays, the arguments and the counter-arguments, I wonder where is the truth amidst the madness? How have we reached a stage in which the government and an army of medics, surgeons and psychiatrists are at such loggerheads? What lies beneath all of this?

 

Theresa May, our Prime Minister tell us that “doctors have never had it so good” – I wonder when she last shadowed a Senior Registrar for Acute Medicine on a Friday night in an understaffed hospital? Jeremy Hunt tells us that he is a modern day Aneurin Bevan (I wonder what AB would think of that?!), whilst his shadow counter-part, Diane Abbott retorts that this is a ridiculous suggestion. The PM and the Secretary of State for Health both agree that the junior doctors are playing politics, something the other side refutes, but all agree that this is a disaster and patients lives may well be put at risk. The right wing press tell us it is all about pay and that the doctors are being greedy, whilst the left wing press tell us it is all about an underlying agenda to privatise the NHS. The Junior Doctors admit that some of this is about pay (who would want a significant pay cut for working long and unsociable hours?) but that it is more about resisting a policy to deliver a 24/7, 7/7 NHS, which they believe to be unaffordable and unstaffable due to shortages in funding and recruitment. Senior colleagues appear to be split down the middle in terms of support for the strikes, patient groups are understandably concerned and yet a solution does not appear to be forthcoming.

 

Shouting, anger, fighting, noise, name-calling, power-plays, hate and hollering. So, who will seek the welfare of the people and the nation? Who will make for peace? Both sides tell us this is what they are doing and this is why they stand their ground. The government apparently want to deliver the same standard of service throughout the 7 day week. The Junior Doctors say they are the ones really standing up for the people by resisting that which is unsafe and unfair.

 

So, let us learn from the peacemakers to find a way through. In apartheid South Africa, peace was not reached through hate and vitriol. It took deep courage from men and women to expose lies, to speak truth to power, but most importantly to tell their stories. It was not about the one man, Nelson Mandela, but the many together waking up to an alternative future that was fairer for everybody. In the battle for civil rights in the USA, a nation was awakened to the reality of injustice within its own borders. The story of one woman, Rosa Parks, who refused to be humiliated on a bus became a people movement as numerous as the stars, shining together for an altogether different day. In Rwanda, after the appalling genocide, those who lost everything, found a voice to communicate to their very oppressors, those who had raped and murdered their own families, not only their story, but forgiveness for the atrocities caused and found a way through to a new future. If we want peace and a better future for everybody, then we need to face up to our reality, be willing to really listen and then find that together we can embrace a new future.

 

We have an apartheid of globalisation and free market capitalism across the entire world. Every day, the gap between the rich and the poor is widened. Our entire economic system, founded on the oppression of Empire through expansion (via military violence), the creation of debt (through an errant banking system) and the rule of law (held in place by the state of the exception) is no longer fit for purpose. We see it in the plight of refugees stuck between war and barbed wire fences in a land they cannot call their own. We see it in the disproportionate imprisonment of Black American males in the USA. We see it in the vile island detention centres of Australia. We see it in the slums of New Delhi, the townships of sub-Saharan Africa and the Favelas of South America – in the eyes of children dying from such ridiculous things as diarrhoea and starvation. We encounter it in the streets of Athens and the public squares of Madrid. And yes, we find it in the midst of our NHS and social care system. Our world as we have known it is broken and no matter how much sticky tape or wrapping paper we apply, the centre simply cannot hold. The core is unstable. Everything is shaking. We must have the courage to let go of what we have known and embrace an altogether different future, a future that is fairer for everybody, where things don’t simply trickle down to the poorest, but in which the balances are re-set.

 

We have become slaves of the ‘free market’, fodder of the beast that requires ever more of us. What lies underneath the row over Junior Doctor pay and the forthcoming strikes is a great gaping hole that scares the hell out of many of us. Oh, we can sling mud until the cows come home, but it’s not going to get us anywhere. Top down, pyramidal, heroic leadership that stays its course and demands it’s own way is simply not going to cut the mustard. We must have some brave and difficult conversations about the detrimental effects of making policy from the safety of ivory towers, and learn to really listen to the stories of those affected. We have so much to learn from the Leeds Poverty Truth Challenge, the Homeless Charter in Manchester, the Community Conversations in Morecambe Bay, the Cities of Refuge initiative, the Civil Rights movements, the Mediation work done in Rwanda…..we don’t have the answers right now. The problems facing the NHS are fare more complex than trying to ensure an undeliverable manifesto promise is outworked. We need humility on all sides, collaboration and partnership.

 

It goes deeper than people right across the UK needing to manage their own health and wellbeing more effectively. It is more complex than needing to recognise where there is waste and dealing with it. It isn’t just as straight forward as needing to talk about chronic under-funding and under-recruitment. We face an existential crisis, an ontological question about the future of humanity together. Resting back onto familiar ways of operating or antiquated leadership styles will simply not work for us any more. The black hole we face is either a death or the opportunity for re-birth. A squeeze that will force us into something new. We can’t keep dancing around it forever. We must take the plunge, accept that there is no going back and see what new creation we might just co-create with Love on the other side. Don’t be afraid…….there is light at the other end of the tunnel.

 

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Changing Health and Wellbeing Through ‘Self-Care’

imgresBetter Care Together is the way in which health services are now being redesigned and reorganised around Morecambe Bay, so that we can provide the best care we can for the people who live here in a way that is safe, sustainable and accessible. It is an on-going process and involves the breaking down of barriers between General Practices, the Hospital Trust (UHMBT), Community Nursing and Therapies, Mental Health Services, Social Care, Allied Services – like the Police and Fire Service – and the Voluntary Sector.

Here in Carnforth, we are piloting some work around ‘self-care’ and exploring what it means to be a healthy town. This is now beginning to spread like wild fire around this area, which is exciting to watch! Part of this work is rooted in the fact that currently 1 in every 5 pounds spent in the NHS is due to our lifestyle choices. If we’re going to have a NHS in the future, then we need to try and choose to live more healthily together. We must also recognise that being healthy and well is far more than just physical health. It includes mental health, social heath and systemic (or environmental) health. A few months ago we hosted a number of conversations in Carnforth about what it might be like if Carnforth was the healthiest town in Lancashire. Some really interesting ideas emerged from the community about singing together more regularly, having less dog poo on the streets, creating safe places for the children to play, getting more exercise into our schools, encouraging healthy eating, a mental health café, help for carers and many other brilliant suggestions.

From these conversations, a ‘Self Care Tree’ has grown with four roots and three clear branches that we believe will help us grow together into a healthy and well town. The roots are straight forward –tn_TreeRoots_resized_b-300x300[1] 1) Really learning to engage with our local community instead of assuming that we know what they need and learning to do things with them instead of to them, 2) being part of an Integrated Care Community – see below, 3) Being part of Better Care Together, 4) Understanding Wellbeing – shifting our mindsets from an ‘illness model’ of health to a ‘wellness model’.

The three main branches we have developed in Carnforth are as follows: The first is that we have some ‘culture change’ to undergo, both in our medical and nursing teams and also as a wider community. Over the coming months we will see the emergence of what we are calling an Integrated Care Community – first modelled for this area in Garstang. As part of Better Care Together, we have appointed a fantastic new Care Co-ordinator, Sarah Baines, who was part of our District Nursing team. Sarah will work alongside Dr David Wrigley at Ash Trees Surgery to help co-ordinate care more effectively in the community for people with more complex health problems and provide more stream-lined care, preventing unnecessary hospital admissions and enabling faster and smoother discharges back home from hospital. Secondly, we are learning to take more of a ‘coaching’ approach to how we consult with patients, to encourage more partnership working with people, rather than telling people what to do (which isn’t actually very effective). Staff are training in ‘coaching practice’, ‘motivational interviewing’ and ‘shared decision making’. We are trying to be more proactive with information. If you look on our practice website, www.ashtrees.co.uk, you will find a tab entitled ‘self-care’. Here you will find videos (many more to come and some of which we are re-doing!) that talk about various common conditions you can treat yourself without having to go through the often difficult task of finding an appointment with one of our team. Our local pharmacists are a hugely valuable resource, who can offer excellent health advice and treatments over the counter, saving local people time and inconvenience.  Also, not too far away, we hope to have a brilliant new facility called ‘e-consult’, which will allow our patients to manage their own care more efficiently ‘on-line’.

Stack-of-British-one-pound-coins-1516897[1]The pressure on General Practice is huge. The government only allocates £136 per person per year to General Practice. this money accounts for all GP consultations, appointments with nurses, blood tests, investigations and referrals and indeed the payment of staff. If you want to know what this compares to, then for £136, you can buy 11 months worth of pet insurance for a rabbit or 3 months worth of coffee every day on your way to work!! No wonder the system is under strain! If we want to have a NHS that is free for everybody and still standing in the years ahead for future generations, then we do need to be careful that we don’t abuse the system and take care of ourselves better and think about whether we really need an appointment before booking one!

 

The second branch we have seen is the emergence of ‘community leaders’, who have seen a community need and have stood up to do something about it. We know there are already loads of il_340x270.575369125_lhd6[1]community leaders out there doing great stuff, like sports clubs as just one example. So, we have seen the start of a mental health café, called “Serenity” every Wednesday afternoon at Hunter Street in Carnforth, 2-4pm. A carer’s café has started on the 3rd Saturday of every month 2-4pm, again at Hunter Street. Carnforth Community Choir meets at 7pm every Friday evening at the Civic Hall – singing is well known to improve our health and wellbeing! We have volunteer dog poo wardens, trying to help our streets be cleaner (it’s amazing what dog poo says about a town), and people cleaning up our parks to give the children in our community safe places to play outdoors. We have trained 22 “health champions” who will be starting with various initiatives soon, and many others have volunteered to help in lots of exciting new ways. All of this serves to break down social isolation and encourage us to take care of ourselves and one another.

 

The third branch is ‘clinical leadership’. Right now, Morecambe Bay has some of the worst health outcomes in the country. We have terrible heart disease rates and people die here far too youngimage[1] of preventable illnesses.  It would be wrong of us, as clinical leaders in the community, to stand by and let these statistics continue as they are. Morecambe Bay deserves better. So, we are working with schools to encourage more exercise in the children and young people in our community. Two local schools (‘Our Lady of Lourdes, Carnforth’ and ‘Arch Bishop Hutton, Warton’, with ‘St John’s C of E, Silverdale’ soon to follow)  have started running a mile a day – all children and staff! This is an amazing achievement and there are some wonderful stories emerging already of the great impact this is having on pupils and staff alike. We’re seeing huge improvements in sleep cycles, behaviour, concentration and general health. Under the banner of ‘Let’s Get Moving’ we hope that all the primary schools in the district will soon be participating in other similar initiatives. We have also started a couple of programmes of work with Carnforth High School, in line with needs they have highlighted to us. We are also going to trial a new NHS shopping list and menu to try and encourage us as a community to eat more healthily and avoid some of the unhealthy ‘bargains’ that the advertising giants try and tempt us with, cutting down on meat, alcohol, sugar and too much fat. If we don’t learn to manage our appetites and our spending habits better, we will never overcome the alarming rise in diabetes rates and heart disease. We are responsible together and really can make a change! So, not long from now, people in this area won’t even need to stress about what to cook for the week ahead, because they will be able to turn up to their local supermarket and get some really healthy and tasty ideas, all costed out and easily affordable (with huge thanks to our amazing chefs, Andy Bickle and Lee Till, from our hospital trust, working with us)! By eating more healthily and taking more exercise, we can genuinely change the health and wellbeing in this area for the next 50 years! On a different tack, our district nursing team is also beginning a leg-ulcer café for those who have been housebound. Such cafés have been proven elsewhere to break social isolation and improve healing rates for patients. All of this work is being undergirded by amazing research projects with the University of Lancaster.

As part of our on-going conversation with this community, we are hosting a further 781-T[2]evening, alongside our Mayor, Malcolm Watkins. It will be on Wednesday 6th April, 7pm at Carnforth Civic Hall. There will be other conversations in the next couple of months in Warton (for those living in Warton and Silverdale) and in Bolton-Le-Sands, for those in BLS, Halton and the Kellets. On Saturday 25th June 2016, we will also co-host a huge Health Mela at Carnforth High School. If you live in the area, please do come along to either of these events and talk with us about what is already going on and how we can all work together to make this town and district a truly healthy place.

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