Continuously Learning Health Systems


Learning requires humility. It requires us to accept that we don’t know everything, that we get it wrong sometimes, make mistakes and need to own up to them so that we don’t do the same thing again. Learning is a vital part of all we do in health and social care, if we are to create truly safe, sustainable, compassionate and excellent services. But humility, although vital, is not enough on its own. There are things we need to put in place to ensure our organisations are continually learning, and not only so but that we actually implement our learning and incorporating it into new ways of working so that we change as a result.

The IHI and Allan Frankel have come up with a really helpful and pretty straight forward framework which enables us to do this. It requires 3 basic ingredients:

 

1) Leadership commitment

2) Individual responsibility

3) A shared learning culture for quality and safety

 

Leadership is absolutely vital in setting the right structures and support in place for learning to take place. It requires:

 

-transparency with the public, patients and staff

-vulnerability about weaknesses

-openness about what is being learned and what is changing as a result

-ensuring we are learning with and from our patients not just within our clinically teams. (Some of the most powerful learning we have done in Morecambe Bay has been from women using our maternity services. Our attitudes, communication skills and expertise have all improved dramatically as a result).

-commitment to the psychological safety of staff in developing a culture in which no question is too stupid and no concern is dismissed

-genuine care for each member of staff, creating a culture in which every person can be mentored, coached and encouraged

-time given and protected in which learning can be fostered

 

Personal Responsibility

Who are you?

In my role as a coach/mentor or trainer I have found that we have become far too obsessed with ensuring that people have the right skills but not necessarily paying too much attention to who people are, what their character is like, what their strengths and weaknesses are and how they are developing as a human being. Our medical/nursing and other clinical schools are filled with people eager to learn but who often have no idea about who they are and who, not what they would like to become. Knowing who you are as a person, hugely affects your clinical practice and we do not give it any way near enough attention. I am personally a huge fan of the Enneagram. For me it has been transformational to understand as a type 7, not only what my root need is (to avoid pain) what my root struggle is (gluttony) how I do under stress (become a falsely happy control freak) but also, what my invitation is (towards sober joy and deeper understanding), how to become a more healthy version of me and therefore a better gift to my family, my team and all the people I’m trying to serve. It has helped me to recognise when I’m doing well and when I’m not and to understand how to bring my core strengths to the fore whilst also recognising where I need discipline and boundaries to function from a more healed place. We each have a responsibility not just to be good at stuff, but to be good at being us. And  being us is more than just knowing how we function (e.g. ENFP in Myers-Briggs) but to get below the surface to the core of what makes us tick, that makes us human. Knowing who we truly are enables us to be better, kinder, more humble, genuine, compassionate people, who put aside the need to beat others down and learn to appreciate them so much more. When you really know the team you are working with, they become your friends, you understand the little idiosyncratic things about them with a whole lot more patience and you can also challenge them when they are not behaving in a way that is conducive to good care and you can also receive that challenge back when you are out of line. I wish that we were more interested in caring about who we are rather than only in what we can do. This has got to be a part of the culture of joy I have blogged about previously.

How are you?

Personal responsibility beckons us to be more honest with ourselves and others about how we’re doing emotionally/physically/mentally. It has been a transformational practice in our team to simply check-in with each other and talk about where we’re at. In this way, we can carry each other when needed and treat each other with kindness and compassion. But our individual agency, must also cause us to recognise when we are at a wall/ceiling/limit personally or professionally. We must simply own up when we don’t know something or are out of our depth or need help. We cannot pretend to be able to have a competency that we don’t have. We need to be self-aware and humble enough to accept when we don’t know something or have become unwell and ensure that we take it upon ourselves to find out or get the help we need. This is learning to have an internal, rather than an external locus of control. An external locus, always looks elsewhere for the answer. An internal locus takes responsibility to find out and keep learning. We need to develop a core value, that learning is really really important and we will prioritise ensuring that we keep making time to do so, through whatever form that takes, especially reflective practice. Yes there is some dependency on supportive structures and time being given, but there is also that sense of motivation that comes from within that we take ourselves and our roles seriously. It’s one of the reasons why I’m such a fan of a combination of problem-based learning and a solutions-focussed approach. If we do this ourselves and foster it in our teams, the care we provide will be beyond stellar!

Why are you Here?

We talk about the law of two feet in our team. You are responsible to know why you are here, or if you need to be somewhere else. That might even mean a job change, but more often than not it means having some good boundaries, knowing whether or not you really need to be at a certain meeting or somewhere else, if you should be doing what you are or if you need to ensure other things get the right focus. And what about yourself? Have you taken time to eat well, stay well hydrated, exercise, sleep well, maintain health in your relationships? In teams that care for each other we need to help each other to know why we are there and why we are important.

 

A Shared Learning Culture

 

It’s amazing to me that so many of our learning environments are still so teacher-based. Adult education is so much more empowering than this and it’s high time our clinical learning environments (both preclinical and in every day life) reflect this. They should also be more inclusive and we should be learning with and from our patients far more than we do. Although the above graphic applies to classroom settings, it contains many lessons for us.

 

With leadership and personal agency holding true, a culture then develops in which continuous learning is the norm. Learning environments, fuelled by kenotic power create a space in which an organisation can begin to truly flourish. It creates a net of accountability, teamwork, improvement and measurement, making the entire system more reliable. It is vital that we create this as one of the core principles upon which we build our future health and social care systems.

 

 

 

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The Four Rings of Leadership in Healthcare

I went to London a couple of weeks ago for the IHI (Institute for Health Innovation) conference in London – Quality Forum 2017. The focus was on Quality and Safety in Healthcare, with some hugely surprising and refreshing perspectives from around the world. It was absolutely great and I learnt loads. I’ve tried to distill my learning from the time into a single sheet diagram. My hope, over the next few blogs is to unpack this a bit more, but here is a very brief summary:

 

If we want to have excellent, safe and financially sustainable health systems, we need four key ingredients, with the patient and their family at the heart/centre. The most important factor in providing safe and high quality care is a CULTURE OF JOY! I love this. I love that an institute based in Harvard, with research from across the world, is able to say this so clearly. If we have happy teams, we provide the best care. It’s simple! A culture of joy has three key elements: firstly the team needs to have a sense of camaraderie (we’re in this together and we love each other and take care of each other), secondly the team needs a sense of purpose and thirdly the members of the team need to feel trusted to do their jobs.

 

Alongside this culture of joy, there needs to be a SOCIAL MOVEMENT, both within the staff and in the wider society. A social movement relies on structures in which power is ceded and personal and corporate agency (responsibility and action) can flourish. There also needs to be a sense of CONTINUOUS LEARNING, in which all partake, every voice matters and no question is too stupid. In Toyota the staff make over 2.5 million suggestions each year! No wonder they are continually improving. And fourthly, there needs to be an agreed focus on QUALITY AND SAFETY, which entails several aspects.

 

All of this depends on a new kind of leadership that is first of all humble, able to cede power and deal with significant complexity and ‘not knowing’. When financial constraints are tight, or huge savings have to be made, it can be tempting to start rationing and cut services deeply. This may balance the books, temporarily, but it destroys every thing you are trying to build, demoralises staff, ruins your culture and breaks trust with those you are trying to serve. The challenge is to begin to hold our nerve in the midst of extreme pressure and do what we know is right, backed by the best evidence available to us – and this, believe it or not, actually makes us financially sustainable. I am going to really enjoy unpacking this more and revisiting my learning over the next few blogs, but the above should hopefully fuel some thinking in the mean time.

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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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Our Nation’s Biggest Public Health Problem

The subject of this blog is sensitive and difficult. It may stir up some difficult issues or memories for you, as you read. If this happens, then please take time to seek the help you need. I believe this blog and ones to follow might be some of the most important I have written to date.

 

UnknownI am currently reading a phenomenal book, sent to me in the post, by a dear friend of mine, who is a trained counsellor and knowing the work I do, felt that I should read it also. The book is called “The Body Keeps the Score” by the eminent Psychiatrist, Bessel Van Der Kolk. In my humble opinion, it should be compulsory reading for every person training in any of the clinical specialities, including public health and for those working in education. The book focusses on the detailed research and work done by Van Der Kolk and others at Harvard over the last 30 years in the whole area of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), or “Disorders of Extreme Stress, Not Otherwise Specified” (DESNOS). It is not a part of our vocabulary, unfortunately, because even now, after a huge evidence base and many studies, there still remains no such psychiatric diagnosis. However, it is a hidden epidemic affecting huge numbers of our population and is the root of many of our major public health issues. So what causes this problem and just how wide spread is it? The evidence shows so strongly that the cause of CPTSD or DESNOS is Adverse Childhood Experiences, which we more starkly call Child Abuse.

 

Child abuse falls into four main categories: Physical abuse, Sexual Abuse, Verbal Abuse and Emotional abuse – usually in the form of neglect. 10% of children suffer regular verbal abuse. 25% suffer regular physical abuse. 28% of women and 16% of men have suffered sexual abuse. 16% regularly watch domestic violence. 87% of all those who suffer one type of abuse, are also abused in other ways. Each of these forms of abuseUnknown lead to major health problems later in life and studies are showing that it is not just mental health issues (many of which lead to inappropriate diagnoses like Borderline Personality Disorder or Bipolar Disorder and ineffective treatments) but also major physical health problems. Those who have been abused are twice as likely than others to develop cancer and four times as likely to have emphysema. The more difficult a person’s experiences, the higher the chance of developing heart, liver or lung disease at an early earlier age with much higher chances of taking more health risks with smoking, becoming overweight or having multiple sexual partners. There is good evidence to suggest a link with autoimmune diseases, such a lupus, and other complex conditions like chronic pain, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. The body cannot be separated from the mind and literally keeps the score of the internalised turmoil. So, even if the abuse happens before memories are formed, or our minds manage to forget or block out what has happened, the body simply cannot forget and sometime and in someway, the damage will show itself. Studies show that the overall cost of this appalling reality far exceed those of cancer or heart disease. In fact, eradicating child abuse would cut depression rates by over 50%, alcoholism by 66% and suicide, IV drug use and domestic violence by 75%. Antidepressants and antipsychotics are now some of our largest prescribing costs. We know this, but are doing very little about it. Perhaps it feels too big. Perhaps we don’t want to face the demons involved. Instead, we are numbing the problem, trying desperately to get people to be just functional enough to keep on serving the needs of our economic system, but we are not facing up to or dealing with this horrific problem, nor its true cost.

 

What can be done in the face of such evil? How can we develop aimages culture of compassion and restorative justice in which we can find a new way through for humanity? It isn’t getting any better. It is just as widespread and far reaching in its consequences as it was a generation ago. Is it possible for us to face up to the startling reality we face? Van der Kolk offers much hope, but it is not within the gift of the health service and social services to tackle this alone. If we are to take this issue seriously, we must embrace what Bessel refers to (at the end of chapter 2) as four fundamental truths:

 

  1. Our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another. Restoring relationships and community is central to restoring wellbeing.
  2. Language gives us the power to change ourselves and others by communicating our experiences, helping us to define what we know and to find a common sense of meaning.
  3. We have the ability to regulate our own physiology, including some of the so-called involuntary functions of the body and brain, through simple activities such as breathing, moving and touching – (learning to be present in our own bodies is a vital way of separating out the memories of the past which can overwhelm us at times).
  4. We can change social conditions to create environments in which children and adults can feel safe and where they can thrive.

images-1People can be healed of trauma. We need this at both an individual and corporate level. We have become so focussed on saving money, on quick fixes to ensure the NHS and Social Care System can survive, but we are ignoring the root cause of many of our ill health issues. If we are willing to face up to the truth of child abuse in our society and its long lasting and far reaching impact on overall health and wellbeing, then we might just be able to find a way through to healing and restoration of what has become an extremely broken society. In the blogs that follow, I will look at some of the ways we might find a way through this crisis of epidemic proportions. One thing we must face straight away is that we are spending our resources in the wrong places and are focussing our attention in the wrong areas. We must protect our children and help people learn how to be good parents. We must strengthen our school teachers and sense of community. We must invest in the first five years of life far more than we are doing so currently, especially those key first 12 months of bonding and attachment. Together, if we want to, with love, care, bravery and determination, we can change the future. There is hope. There is healing. Our systems are not yet designed to cope with this, but we must speak the unspeakable, break the silence and face up to the truth. The truth will set us free and enable us to develop the kind of wellbeing that every human being should be able to live within.

 

 

 

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A Collaborative Clinical Community 

*Warning – this blog contains swear words (not that I’m usually a potty mouth!)

This last week we had a gathering of clinical leaders around Morecambe Bay – Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Health Visitors, Midwives, Doctors, Surgeons, Physiotherapists, Pharmacists etc. We were gathered from across primary and secondary care to look together at the financial deficit we are facing as a health community across the Bay where we are seeking to serve our population.

The debt we’re facing (a hole of around 38 million of our English pounds!) is no small thing. Most of it is historic and much of it had nothing to do with us. I spent my first eighteen months as a commissioner feeling furious at the government. I wanted to rail against the machine, the injustice of working in such an oppressive, top down and hierarchical system, which feels like being among the Hebrew Slaves in Egypt when they were told to make the same number of bricks with less resource available to them. I felt so angry with the fact that we invest so little of our GDP into health and social care compared to similar countries and when further unthought through policies were dictated from Whitehall, I felt a total rage. It doesn’t help being politically pretty far to the left and working under a regime to which I feel ideologically opposed.

But one day, I realised two things. The first thing I realised is that the government are not going to change their position or policy. Our systems of government are not set up in a relational, collaborative or solutions focussed way. It doesn’t have to like this, but this is the way it currently is. Our systems have become the very antithesis of their purpose. Rather than serve the needs of the people, the people now serve the systems. The second thing I realised was that my anger didn’t achieve anything except to make me feel tired, disempowered and stressed. I had retreated into the less healthy parts of my personality in which I was keeping false joy alive and feeling burnt out in the process.

Truth has the ability to set you free. When we face truth, no matter how painful, it gives the choice of being more free. Facing up to the truth that the government are not about to change their modus operandi and that I was feeling angry and stressed allowed me to step out of rather childish thought processes and step into something altogether more wholesome. It allowed me to step out of a false sense and rather oppressive noun of responsibility and gave me the space to think more creatively about how I am part of a community of people who can respond to the situation we find ourselves in. We can respond (verb) once we step out of the oppressive yolk of responsibility (noun).

So, those of us in clinical leadership may have not created the financial situation, but there are some stark realities for us to face up to. Whether we like it or not, our current ways of working carry much waste, caused partly by the way the finances of the system operate, but also because we have not thought of ourselves as one. There are ways we behave within the system that create more financial problems and do not serve the community as well as we could. And so it is time for us to do what we can, within our gift by being much braver in our approach. I am suggesting that there are three Cs that are vital to our future.

  1. Collaborative

imagesWe need to reimagine ourselves as all being part of a team who are together tackling the health crises we are facing. We know only too well that, as just one example among many, we are failing kids with asthma because we have not joined up our resources or thinking adequately enough. Yes there are major issues with housing, smoking and pollution, but let’s not point the finger or push the problem somewhere else. Let’s use the phenomenal brains God has given us to pull the right people round the table and work out what we’re going to do about it. Let’s change the way we spend our time so that we’re in schools, we’re listening to our communities and we’re partnering together outside of our normal comfort zones to change the health of the generations to come. We know only too well, that if we don’t shift our focus towards population health and work more intentionally with our communities, doing things with them rather than too them, we will never win this battle. We’re not about playing political games. We are about working with our communities to create optimal health for every person no matter who they are or where they are from. We need to be braver, push the boat away from the shore we know and face the uncertain waters of working altogether differently. In my next blog I will explore some of the possible ways we could work differently.

2) Clinical

In order for the NHS to adapt and become sustainable for the future, we must not be afraid of clinical leadership. Our managers have a phenomenal set of skills, which we must draw on, but there is a trust we have amongst the communities we are embedded in that means they will trust us, if we engage with them properly that will allow us to turn this ship in a new direction. We must partner with our managerial colleagues, but be braver about the direction in which we know deep down we need to head in. We have gained so much expertise and trust and this is not a time to waste it or bury our heads. We must be braver and bolder in our vision of what we can really achieve together.

3) Community

iuAs clinicians we must, as many have stated this week, build bridges not walls. There is far too much division, suspicion and competition amongst us. (Here comes the swearing)…..I was in a conversation with a consultant colleague recently and he was relaying to me that another consultant referred to GPs as a “bunch of Fuck Wits”. In a separate conversation, one of my GP colleagues referred to consultants as a “bunch of arrogant Shits”. These kind of attitudes pervade the NHS and have created a culture of dishonour, distrust and division. Honestly! We’re better than this. How are we going to create the new workforce of the future that works across our currently artificial boundaries if we don’t teach them basic respect? This week a patient came to see me because he was dismayed at having to have seen a nurse at the hospital after suffering a significant condition and wanted to check that I, as a doctor, was happy with what he had been told. I could have laughed it off, but I wanted to stand up for my nursing colleague, who actually has far more expertise in this area of medicine than I do. The advice he had been given was perfect and completely in line with the best guidance available. We must not be afraid to challenge attitudes that are antiquated and out of place. More than ever, we need a culture of honour. A culture of honour is one in which we believe the best of each other, speak well of each other and appreciate our brilliantly necessary but differing gifts and expertise. We need to work out how we work effectively together for the best of the people we serve. We need to connect with each other and rehumanise the system in which we work. When was the last time you met as a cross cultural or multidisciplinary team and simply told each other what you love and appreciate about each other and the work you do? If we can’t learn to be more relationally whole, we will continue to work in the midst of serious dysfunction and strife. Come on – amongst us we have some remarkable gifts of wisdom, healing and hope. Let’s build the kind of culture and community amongst us that stands shoulder to shoulder, changes the story in the media and speaks with one voice to the powers that we are about the a new way of working together through relationship not hierarchy and fear. What might we really achieve together? It is this kind of collaborative clinical community that can change the future of healthcare, not just in the UK, but right across the globe.

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3 Keys for the Future of Healthcare

This week I traveled to London for an interview. The lovely team that I work with have nominated me for the HSJ Clinical Leader of the Year award. Unbeknownst to me, this meant presenting myself before a panel of experts and leaders in the field of healthcare to talk about the work we have been doing. It was a privilege to get to do this. One of the questions gave me an opportunity to explore with them what I have learnt that has the capacity to bring transformational change….another was about the nature of leadership (which I will blog on next time).

 

So, for what it’s worth, here are the 3 key things  which I consider to be vital to unlock the future of sustainable healthcare, just in case they are helpful!

 

  1. Culture Change 

 

Much has been written in the press (and quite rightly so) over the last few years about some of the toxic culture that is at work in the NHS. Sometimes the toxicity is to do with power plays, competition, hierarchy, bullying, low morale and substandard care. But in other cases it is to do with a lack of compassion and care towards those who work in the system which causes the other negative behaviours or leads on to emotion fatigue and poor delivery of service.

 

When I moved into my role as “lead clinical commissioner of maternity services” (we love long titles in the health service!), three and a half years ago, it was just as Sir Bill Kirkup was publishing his report into the University Hospital of Morecambe Bay. It highlighted the failings we had in our maternity and neonatal services that had lead to some extremely sad and unnecessary losses of life. It targeted the negative culture within our teams and directly challenged some of the behaviours. Morale was understandably at an all time low. But there has been a significant change in culture over the last few years. Cultural shift is absolutely possible but involves a willingness to look stupid at times, to persevere when things feel awkward and remain hopeful when the task seems impossible. I believe the secret lies in rehumanising team meetings, connecting at a relational level, being vulnerable with each other, learning from mistakes, challenging unacceptable practice but creating an atmosphere of grace in which people can reflect, learn, grow, develop, change and discover each other with a deeper understanding and eyes that choose to look with kindness. I refuse to start any of the team meetings I chair without checking how people are doing, giving them space to tell a bit of their story. I want to give space for people to encourage each other, say what they love about each other and what they most appreciate about one another’s work. It’s not rocket science. It’s called connection and compassion! I’ve seen it work here in maternity teams, in our health and wellbeing teams and it really can happen anywhere. Without giving it space and time, nothing will change. But where there is a real sense of togetherness and hope, many more things become possible.

 

2. Community Partnership

 

Part of our problem in healthcare is our level of expertise. We know far too much. We “know” what’s good for people. We “know” what people and communities need. We “know” what will make them better. BUT we have not yet really learned to LISTEN. I have found it to be a very humbling and necessary experience to shut my mouth, quieten my need to fix and really listen to the people and communities I am looking to serve and live amongst. When our team hosts conversations to listen to people here around their dreams for this area in terms of health and wellbeing, they don’t talk about extra appointments at weekends or shorter waiting times. They talk about dog poo, safe playing spaces for kids, singing, looking after elderly neighbours, help with exercise and eating well, safe places for people with mental health problems to get together and be understood and many other things. I have found that listening builds partnerships. It creates trust. It means that with our communities, we can co-commission things, and we can do things together rather than the experts doing things to them.

 

If we are going to see the social movement we need around health and wellbeing in this country, we are going to have to let go of some of our “knowing” and be humble enough to learn. We are going to need to partner with people and not do things to them. We are going to need to focus more on prevention than treatment. We are going to need to work differently. Without the vital engagement and listening with and to our communities, we will never achieve the holy grail of a sustainable health service that remains free for everybody. Together, many things become more possible, and we can learn to live in peace.

 

3.  Collaboration

 

Every organisation is strapped for cash. It doesn’t need to be this way, but it is the reality of our current economic model. Collaboration and the sharing of resources between partners and organisations is the only way forward. I love sitting in team meetings that involve healthcare – in its different guises – primary, secondary and community services, with social care, the police, the fire service, mental health teams, the voluntary sector, the faith sector, the city and county councils. Creating new cultures, letting down barriers, discovering shared vision, pooling ideas and resources – seriously good for the soul and definitely the future we are looking for.

 

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Changing the Culture of the NHS

imgresI had the very real privilege of listening to and interacting with Prof Mike West of the Kings Fund as part of a Cumbria Wide learning collaborative a few days ago. It was utterly engaging and inspiring. His basic strap line is this: “The vision of health and social care is to deliver continuously improving, high quality and compassionate health care to all in our community.” The problem is that we’re not doing this, and we’re not doing this because there is something deeply wrong in our culture. And so how do we change a system, especially when it feels that the odds are seriously against us? How do we recover compassion? How do we envision a floundering workforce and help them to believe? Why are there some beacons of light in each organisation and some really dark holes? Why are we not learning more readily from areas of good practice and challenging those that are way below par?

 

There are some seriously problematic things for us to face up to, and although I love to take a ‘solutions-focused’ approach, I do believe that sometimes you have to face up to your reality before you decide to move into a different kind of future. We could talk until the cows come home about the potential dismantling of the NHS, the low morale of staff and this ‘black hole’ of debt. But what I want to focus on in this post is the cultural deficit. Previous governments have tried to address this with targets, competition and inspections, but each of these, although I think introduced with good intentions, have backfired spectacularly and driven morale lower without improving the culture at all.

 

imgresStress is defined by Mike West as a poisonous concoction of high work demand, low control and poor support. Chronic high stress levels are significantly higher in the NHS (26.8%) compared to any other sector (17.8% on average). High stress is detrimental for people’s health and a well known cause of early death. And so in an organisation in which we have 1.4 million people spending on average 80000 hours of their lives caring for other people, we are literally killing them by not caring for them. This is a paradox in an organisation which is supposed to have compassion at its core. And yet we know through significant evidence that the lower the morale and health of your team, the worse the outcomes for patients will be. Stress in the NHS and the lack of compassion with which we treat our own staff is a more significant health risk to the population than many of the issues that we give far more attention to.

 

So, what can we do? Are we doomed to serve systems that de-humanise people and devour them like bread? Must a system be driven by what Foucault calls ‘biopower’, ie using human beings as the fodder to drive the machine? Can the systems be harnessed and redeemed and made to work for us rather than served by us? Yes! I can say that this is happening here in Morecambe Bay and I see evidence of it in many areas. Nationally, we can take comfort from 2 things, in particular. Firstly, although the truth about our current culture is uncomfortable, the truth is now available to all, so change really can happen. Secondly, the vast majority of people genuinely want the culture to change and the dominant minority in the centre of toxic cultures can no longer hold. Mike West says systems can change, and he has gathered some good evidence to back this up. But it takes time (5-6 years), it takes focus and it takes consistency. He breaks cultural change down into 6 key elements that are well worth exploring.

 

6 Key Elements of Cultural Change

 

1) Vision, values and strategy. It is absolutely vital in order for a culture to change that the direction of travel is obvious to all. Salford Royal Hospital in Manchester have for years had the same vision statement: “To be the safest hospital in England”, and they have done it! A vision has to be clear, it imgreshas to mark ambition for the future and be able to guide and inspire the whole organisation towards change. However, it takes 5-6 years to embed this through an organisation. So those who communicate a vision to staff and then wonder why they haven’t got it yet need to understand that a paradigm shift in thinking doesn’t happen overnight. A change in direction of the rudder doesn’t turn the ship in one go. The vision needs to be communicated multiple times in multiple ways to multiple audiences. It needs to be inspiring, owned by all and makes clear commitments to the direction of travel.

 

2) Clearly aligned goals at every level. If a vision is to be cast, there must be measurable goals along the way, so that a team knows they are heading in the right direction. These goals have 2 key elements. Firstly they must be clear and achievable (so not more than 5 or 6). Secondly, they must be aligned to vision, measurable and challenging. People must be challenged to reach an objective, so that the process is both stretching and fun, and there needs to be celebration of goals being reached along the way. Problems emerge here when leaders don’t want to hear about problems that are being encountered. The team needs to be responsive to barriers. For example, there is no point wasting time and energy on collecting data for the sake of it. We want to collect data that actually helps improve patient care or helps staff do their job more effectively. If we want our staff to treat people with care and dignity, then we must treat our staff with care and dignity and that means listening to them and responding to them as we head into uncharted waters.

 

3) Leaders need to manage and engage with their staff well to gain high quality care. The high level ofimgres chronic stress in NHS staff proves that this is not happening as well as it needs to. The Kings fund have discovered some key themes from their research in this area: a) patient satisfaction rates are far higher where staff have clear goals and are working together as a team to achieve them, b) staff views of their leaders is directly linked to patients’ views of care quality, c) staff satisfaction/commitment predicts patient satisfaction, d) if staff feel high work pressure, low control over this and low support then patients will also report low staffing numbers, insufficient support, privacy and respect, e) poor staff health and well-being is directly linked to high injury and mortality rates, and good HR practices lead to lower and decreasing levels of patient imgresmortality. Another key factor is the reduction of hierarchy. The John Lewis Partnership has consistently had the highest level of staff morale for the last 180 years. one key factor is this: there are only 3 levels of hierarchy – CEO/board/partners. Staff/partners feel empowered to make changes and they are listened to.

 

We are not managing our staff well in the NHS. 24% of staff report regular bullying by ‘management. Discrimination is higher especially for those of Black-African and Black Afro-Caribbean descent. It is still high for those from Asia and 18 times higher for Muslims than for any other group and is also high for those who are not ‘heterosexual’. If you have white skin, you are three times more likely to be imgrespromoted into senior leadership positions, when account for numbers is made. And despite the suffragettes we continue to see discrimination against women in certain specialties, most notably, surgery. This is not an acceptable culture. We need to change the culture. Leaders need to learn to be present for their team. Mike West puts it so well: “Leaders need to learn to listen, with kind eyes, full of care and fascination (just as we would want our patients to be listened to). We need to learn empathy, to communicate well and take intelligent action.” Engagement with our teams is about really engaging at an emotional level and this takes trust. Our management styles must change towards being far more inclusive, empowering and under-girded with our values and integrity. For staff to feel happy, there needs to be a sense of a stable senior leadership team. There should be a real sense of anger about how badly staff in the NHS are currently treated but a clear positive attitude towards affecting change. Leaders must help process negative emotion in their teams and deal with quarrelsome, disruptive behaviour that spoils the hope for a different future. Poor performance and attitude has to be challenged if we are to create the kind of culture we need and want to see.

 

There are many situations and systems in which an entire culture can be toxic, with top down bullying as the order of the day. Creating resilience in our teams is not about toughening people up to go back into toxic situations until they finally break. No, we need something far more creative than this. It is impossible to change a culture as a lone shark. Mike West talked about gaining ‘minority imgresinfluence’ – good examples of this are found in the Feminist movement and the Green Party. A small group of committed and determined people can accomplish an incredible amount. But if the culture will not change, then wipe the dust off your feet and go and give your energy elsewhere. Systems can change if there is desire enough to change them. There are hospital trusts in the UK that report significantly higher staff morale than anywhere else. We must learn from places like Salford Royal, Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals, St Helen’s and Knowsley, Bedford and Frimley Park. Here in Morecambe Bay, where the maternity service has been at rock bottom, we are part way through an incredible cultural shift and many other departments throughout the country are beginning to turn here and ask us what we’re learning in our journey of change.

 

4) Learning, Quality Improvement and Innovation. This is a very straight forward point, but one to which we do not pay enough attention. Learning organisations facilitate the learning of all staff and the system itself to continuously improve. If we’re not improving, we are going backwards. We must learn to learn from failures and create a culture where this is acceptable. Learning organisations are characterized by systems thinking with information systems that can measure performance. In such a system, staff are encouraged and motivated to focus on improving quality (why would we want to do a shoddy job?). Learning is done in teams and crosses the boundaries of role and specialization and there is always dialogue going on around this. Prof West says that a key question to continually ask is this: “What do we need to change around here to enable you to be able to do your job more effectively?” We must make a promise to learn and a commitment to act. Where staff have a focus on continually improving patient care and this is embedded in the culture, targets become obsolete. Reflective practice and learning becomes endemic. All staff are accountable and all staff are enabled and empowered to bring about change.

 

5) Team working. Teams need clear objectives, roles, communication and learning. In the NHS, 5% of people say they do not work in a team. 40% of people feel they work in an effective team. That leaves 55% of people who consider the team they work in to be dysfunctional. Stress, injury, bullying and errors are all higher in ‘pseudo-teams’ and the mortality rates are significantly lower for patients who are cared for by teams that function well. Interpersonal conflict is a disaster for effective team and inter-team working. The imgresKirkup report into Morecambe Bay and the Francis report into Stafford both highlight the appalling and detrimental effects of the breakdown of relationship between consultants and hospital departments.  It is estimated that up to 30000 deaths per year could be prevented by more effective team working. This conversation really matters! We have to change our culture.

 

To develop good teams, we must encourage positive and supportive relationships, resolve and prevent conflicts, create a positive group attitude to diversity, be attentive and really listen to our teams, encourage inter-team cooperation and nurture team learning improvement and innovation. Our teams must develop reflexivity. Teams are more effective and innovative to the extent to which they take time out to reflect upon their objectives, strategies, processes and environments and make changes accordingly. The best response to pressure is not to work even harder, but to stop, take a step back and reflect. This is true even in emergency situations, as evidenced by the pilot who handed over the controls to his co-pilot whilst he took time to assimilate his options and decide on a strategy to land US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson river in 2009.

 

iu-46) Collective Leadership. Leadership is the responsibility of all. It is for anyone with any kind of expertise to take responsibility where and when appropriate. Leadership is shared in teams across the whole community. It is interdependent and collaborative, working together to ensure high quality health and social care. This is our experience through Better Care Together in Morecambe Bay. It needs to be both clinical and managerial. The more hierarchy there is, the less opportunity there is to innovate. There are lessons for us to learn from more collaborative leadership styles like ‘The Art of Hosting’. We would do well, to take heed and learn some vital lessons from teams daring to do things differently.images

 

Mike West finished his lecture with a very beautiful summary: Health and Social Care is about the core value of compassion. We want to create compassionate communities that listen with fascination and are empathic. We have to begin with ourselves. We need to take intelligent actions around this so that we can create the kind of cultures we want to see.

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