Social Movements and the Future of Healthcare


As the crisis in the Western World deepens, and the growing reality sets in that business as usual simply can no longer continue nor solve our problems, our systems must change the way they view, deal with and hold onto power. The NHS is no exception. If we want a health and social care system that is of the highest quality, safe, sustainable and economically viable for the future, we need to understand the power of social movements, both within our systems and through the wider society. This is something we are really committed to in Morecambe Bay and so it was with great delight that I listened to the excellent Helen Bevan, talk about just how vital social movements are for the NHS and healthcare, worldwide at the recent IHI conference in London, Quality 2017. This blog will be an amalgamation of what Helen shared and my own thoughts about our early experiences with social movements.

 

 

A social movement in health and social care involves us all learning to connect, collaborate, cooperate, cocreate and coproduce at a level we have never done so, until now. But our circumstances are forcing us to reconsider the ways in which we work. We need the creative substance that is within our teams to be heard and harnessed so that we cut our waste and work more effectively together. The issues we face, need facing by us all, together; not by some board in an isolated room, making decisions based on diktats from on high, on behalf of us all.  But even this will not be enough. Those of us stuck in the system have become too homogenized in our thinking for us to do this exclusively from within. We need our citizens to help us re-imagine what it means for us to be healthy and well. We must stop designing things for our communities or doing things to them, instead we must design and do things with them. We must analyse, create and enact together and to do this, we must learn to solve the issues of power.

 

Helen Bevan, with her background in social science, demonstrates the great debate about the interplay between our organisational structures (rules) and agency (freedom) when it comes to effecting change. Where does the “permission” come from to enact the change we need to see? Is it externally generated by those in positions of power, or is it internally generated by a personal motivation? Our experience in Carnforth and Morecambe in community conversations has been a bit of both. There are many people of incredible heart and goodness, waiting to do something new and good that will positively affect the health and wellbeing of society, but are perhaps waiting for that sense of community backing, support, encouragement or indeed permission. With a bit of coaching or spurring on, we have seen some amazing initiatives begin that are bringing transformational work into our area and causing us all think differently. We need both individual agency AND corporate agency. Helen describes individual agency as being when people get more power and control in their lives – we see this in patient activation, shared-decision making and self-care – a greater sense of autonomy and responsibility. Collective agency, on the other hand, is where we see people act together, united by a common cause, harnessing the power and influence of the group whilst building mutual trust.

 

 

We have seen this used powerfully, in just one example by our maternity liaison service committee, who together have challenged our system to think more carefully about how we communicate to women, especially at key or stressful moments of their obstetric care. These stories are now a compulsory part of training for all who work in our maternity service and have significantly improved both our skill mix and ability to provide excellent care.
What is absolutely vital to understand is that we do not become transformed alone. We are transformed when we are in relationship with others (Hahrie Han). The problem is that we don’t really encounter the “other” enough to be changed. However,  when we let go of the kind of power that is held by the few, pushes others down, uses command and control, that is closed and transactional, and instead embrace a power that is held by the many, shared, open and relational, then we can begin to see the change we need (Hirschman and Ganz).

David Holzmer says that we are witnessing the collapse of expertise and the rise of collaborative sense-making. I would suggest that this has been going on for some time, but our systems have been incredibly slow at catching onto the change around us.

 

Now, what is hugely encouraging is this: research by Kollectif shows that you only need 3% of people in an organisation/society to drive the conversations with 90% of other people. In other words, you don’t have to get everyone on board from the word go. You find your passionate people with a sense of agency, infect them with the virus and watch it spread. These people need to be a mixture of ‘lone wolves’, mobilisers and organisers. Lone wolves are people who have been trying to help change happen for a long time but can sometimes feel like an annoyance to the system, so they are given tokenistic positions, patted on the head and patronised into exhaustion. Mobilisers build power by calling large numbers of people to contribute, engage in change and take action. Organisers build power by growing leaders in a distributed network, building a community and protecting its strength. We need all of them, though mobilisers and organisers will be the most effective in creating agency and bringing about lasting change  (Hahrie Han).

Joe Simpson says that ” great social movements get their energy by growing a distributed leadership.” The cult of celebrity can be powerful, but is not effective. The beautiful thing about a social movement is that is depends not on money, materials and technology but on relationships, commitment and community, and as the movement grows, these resources increase, rather than diminish. The problem, as Don Berwick puts it, is that leaders in position of strategic influence, are simply not seeing the resources available to the biggest problems we are facing.

 

Jason Leitch and Derek Feeley have powerfully shown that performance management (keeping the power), based on targets, sanctions and inspections can only get us so far. Quality improvement (sharing the power) gets us a little further, but mobilising social action, or co-production (ceding power) has a far greater potential to bring lasting change and far better outcomes for all.

 

So, how do we catalyze a social movement and how would we know if the movement was being “successful”? Well, our experience in Morecambe Bay is that you start with the 3%. You start with those who are drawn to the conversation, who recognise the need for change and who want to be part of it. You start with transparency, with openness, honesty and vulnerability about the mess we find ourselves in and the truth that we no longer have what it takes to solve the problem. And you start with really good questions and then deeply listen to the conversation which is emerging so that we ourselves are changed and can therefore be part of the emergence of something new, which operates on an entirely different kind of power.

You might call this a re-humanisation of our systems based on love, trust and the hope of a positive peace for all. But this social movement is not aiming for some kind of hippy experience in which we are all sat round camp fires, singing kum-ba-yah! This social movement is looking to cause our communities to flourish with a sense of health and wellbeing, to have a health and social care movement that is safe, sustainable, socially just and truly excellent, serving the needs of the wider community to grow stronger with individuals learning, growing and developing in their capacity to live well. That is what we must measure!
And so we need disruptive co-creation, which breaks through the top-town/bottom-up approach and causes us to see and hear like we have never done before. It is hugely exciting and enables managers to stop feeling like they have to extract as much performance as possible from the system, flogging the workforce, blocking change and innovation and inadvertently driving down the quality of care in the process.

The invitation is instead to become part of the change that we all long for. If we’re going to have an NHS in the future, we have to give it back to the people and work with them. In order to do this, we have to deal with and change our relationship with the very notion of power – something I will turn my attention to on the next blog!

 

 

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Building a Culture of Kindness in the NHS

My morning surgery began today with a patient of mine, who works as  Health Care Assistant (or Band 3) in our local acute hospital trust. As we find across the board in the NHS right now, there are pressures in her department with under-staffing and a very high and demanding work load. She started her day in tears, telling me about the sleepless nights, but even more so about the lack of support she is feeling in her work environment. She feels unable to understand why huge fees are paid to find locum consultants, when posts are not covered, but money cannot be found for the absence of staff at her level, when the numbers are down, leading to an increased pressure and low morale.

 

Now, this is not a criticism of the acute trust we partner with every day, because I actually know all too well the situation here, how complex it can be and just how dedicated to caring for staff the leadership of the trust are. However, when we read in the press today about sickness absence for stress among paramedics, and if I were to detail more stories about the number of cases I am currently dealing with as a GP about stress in the workplace for ALL grades of staff in the NHS and social care setting, then we have to face up to the fact that we have a problem. Stress in the workplace and low morale in our teams is not a problem we can afford to ignore. It not only causes high sickness rates, which then increases the pressure on teams, with knock on financial implications to the system; it also causes significant compassion fatigue (i.e. staff are literally less able to care about or for their patients), because they are emotionally overwhelmed, under-resourced and therefore become more numb, disengaged and unkind and this is detrimental to patient care.

 

The problem is actually really complex, but it is, in my opinion, primarily cultural, and particularly affects the lower pay-grades of staff, because they feel and are in fact less able, to influence change. If we do not develop a culture of kindness towards our own teams and have a sea-change within our working environments in terms of how we care for each other, we will only see the problems go from bad to worse. So, how do we create a culture of kindness, a culture of honour, a culture of wellbeing?

 

I would like to suggest six things (all beginning with H – the 6Hs), which are fairly simple, but make a massive difference to how teams function and therefore the morale within those teams:

 

  1. Humanity – First, we must recognise that hierarchy has the inbuilt tendency to de-humanise us. As we get higher in the pyramidal systems in which we work, we can easily lose our humility and compassion towards others as we have to cope with the greater demands from “above us” and if we’re not careful we can turn into slave drivers. Top down, controlling leadership is detrimental to good morale and stifles teams from working effectively.  There is a famous, ancient parable (told in the New Testament) about an unmerciful manager, who owed a huge amount of money to his master/CEO. The CEO called him to account and threatened to fire him. However, he begged for mercy and the master cancelled his debt and gave him a fresh chance. However, this same manager then went and found all the people who owed something to him, and instead of paying forward the mercy he had received, treated his own debtors shamefully, despite their begging and pleading for mercy. When the CEO found out about this, the manager was duly fired. I wonder how often we tolerate ‘bullying’ by managers, because they ‘run a tight ship’, without calculating the cost of this style of management on our teams and the patients we serve? Changing culture is hard. Even if the CEO sets a good culture, any one of us can bring a negative influence in the area we work. We have to make a conscious choice to keep our kindness switched on. As we climb the ladder of responsibility, we must continue to act with humanity. We must also remember that it works the other way round – we can start dehumanising those in leadership positions ‘above us’, or those who work in different teams. We make terribly unfair assumptions about people all the time. A little bit of understanding, kindness and compassion goes a HUGE way in treating each other with kindness instead of suspicion.
  2. Humility – For those in leadership, there can be a tendency to forget that when we were in in ‘lower’ positions, we often felt the same low morale and pressure from those ‘above us’. Leadership requires that we keep our love and compassion switched on towards those who we now lead. This means we must really learn to listen, and that means having the humility to recognise where we have been getting it wrong. If we are not prepared to change, then we are not really listening. It takes courage to create a culture in which we can receiving a challenge from those in our team and be able to make a change and not just use our position to squash the person who dared to speak out. It takes even more guts to admit where we have been wrong, say sorry and move forward differently.
  3. Help – one of the very worst things that can happen in any team dynamic is when we hear the words ‘it’s not my job’. I hear it so often and it makes me sad! We must never think we are above any task – whether that is cleaning up a mess, wiping a patient’s bum or picking up some litter. We must simply help each other out. But we also need the humility to admit when we are struggling and actually ask for help. We encounter terrible and unspeakable trauma at times, or may simply be going through tough personal circumstances. Sometimes, we need the humility to recognise where we are not coping, where we are struggling, when we’re not functioning and ask for help. And when we ask for help we need to have the confidence that we will encounter the humanity of those around us to help us at our time of need.
  4. Honour – Sometimes a situation may not be able to change, but in these situations the very worst thing leaders can do is close ranks, shut communication down and raise the levels of demand. No, vulnerability, openness and honesty, sharing the reality of the situation and communicating clearly why things cannot change currently at least allows the team to pull together and face the situation as one. However, there must be a very clear challenge here – Yanis Varoufakis puts it so well in his book “And The Weak Suffer What they Must” – we have to remember just how crippling powerlessness can be. Like my patient this morning, she has no access to the ‘powers’ or to the ‘purse strings’. She cannot up and leave, she simply can’t afford to, and so she works under huge pressure for very little pay, powerless to enact change, other than to put in place her own boundaries. A cultural shift towards a culture of kindness is to ensure that those with the least ‘honour’ are treated the most honourably. Leadership is about being able to take the hit, not self-protectionism at the cost of ones team. It is absolutely amazing just how far the words ‘Thank You’ can go, to keeping this sense of honour alive.
  5. Health – (by health, I mean wellbeing in its widest sense) – we have to actually care for the people around us. We have developed a culture in the NHS and social care where we will do all we can to care for our patients/clients, but will break the backs of ourselves or our teams in the process, which is actually entirely self-defeating! It is impossible to care for others well, when you are feeling exhausted and broken! I have said it on this blog before and I will say it many times again: we have to develop a sense of the health and wellbeing of the people in our teams. We need time in the craziness and business of each day to stop the mad rushing, be still and take notice/be mindful/be heartful. We all need time to get up off our chairs and stretch and be more active – #runamile every day (it only takes 15 minutes). We need time to connect with each other (do we really take time to know the people we spend an inordinate amount of time with and alongside and check they are actually doing OK?), to eat well, stay hydrated and keep learning, so we don’t feel overwhelmed. Building these as an absolute priority into our daily work routines is vital, especially as pressures increase. The tendency is that when the going gets tough, our health gets significantly worse. We must learn to protect this in the midst of our business, or we will suffer the consequences in multiple ways.
  6. Hope – there is an ancient proverb that says: “hope deferred makes the heart sick, but hope coming is a tree of life.”  Hopelessness takes root when we feel that nothing can ever change and we feel powerless to influence anything. Hope is born when we develop ways of working in which teams can work together on solutions to the problems they are encountering, rather than being dictated to from on high in a unrelational way. Hope is about being able to sense that the future is alive with possibility. It is a life line when things are tough, when the tunnel is long and dark – just a little glimpse of light – and then faith builds that together we can get there.

 

Not difficult. Actually pretty straight forward. We don’t need unkindness or low morale in our work places. We don’t want to be suffering with compassion fatigue because we are physically and emotionally drained and running on empty. We really can create the kind of culture we want to see and experience in the NHS and social care – a culture of kindness – sounds nice doesn’t it?! All it takes is for us to remember humanity, humility, help, honour, health and hope.

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