How do You Solve a Problem Like………..£50,000,000?!!

On Friday night, watching comic relief, I got quite excited as the total neared £50 million – I turned to my lovely wife and said – ha – there now, we can plug the gap in our local health economy for next year! (Obviously the money is desperately needed in many situations across the UK and Africa, so I wasn’t being flippant), but – that’s the target we’ve been set by the government in Morecambe Bay – save £50 million pounds – one tenth of our budget in 1 year!! Sure thing! The public just love to hear about cuts! Comic relief – you have to laugh, or you’d cry……..but the situation isn’t really very funny and yet, if we don’t head into the fray with some joy and hope in our hearts, we will become wearied very quickly.

 

Let me frame this problem by stating something we must then put to one side. Professor Don Berwick, health advisor to Barack Obama, and president of the IHI (Institute for Health Innovation at Harvard – a clever man by all accounts) recently stated very clearly to the Department of Health that it is quite simply not possibly to continue having a National Health Service run on only 8% of GDP (the lowest spend on healthcare of almost any OECD nation). We must also put to one side the recent publication by the King’s Fund, the independent think tank, that states quite clearly that the government are not investing anywhere near what they promised they would  in the NHS. It also demonstrates that the NHS is not a bottomless pit, as some of the media would have us believe. Read it in more depth here:

(https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/topics/productivity-and-finance/nhs-myth-busters)

 

We know we need more funding. We know there is much negativity in the press about the crisis we are facing, we know about the recruitment issues and we know about the low morale of staff and high strain on the service.

 

Having put all of that to one side and accepting that the NHS remains a political football, currently being given a good kicking, we do need to have a sensible conversation. Whether we like it or not, as we look into the future, it is unsustainable for the health and social care system to have to allocate 1/5th of its budget as a direct result of our lifestyles, 1/10th of its budget on diabetes (the vast majority relating to type II, which is hugely preventable and reversible) or to double pay for beds in nursing homes and hospitals because of unnecessary admissions. So…..what are we to do? Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS will, this week give a major speech on the direction the health service and the progress of the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), of which there are 44 across England – they have little chance of success if we do not believe that we are all in this together.

 

It truly involves all of us! We, the people, together must face this problem head on. We do not have to turn on each other in a time of crisis, we can turn to each other and use our collective wisdom and gifts to find a way through. This does not have to mean doom and gloom. It could mean better community cohesion, a more positive way of working together across the system, organisations working collaboratively in a way that makes more sense for those who need help and all of us taking a bit more responsibility for our own health and wellbeing. We must learn to rebuild the very fabric of society, based on love and trust, de-professionalise the public and civic space (as per Cormac Russell) and reconnect as human beings who care for each other and want to have systems that serve our needs. This will be made possible through multiple, small and large conversations in which we take time to ask some really deep and important questions, holding the space through the process of frustration as we wrestle together for solutions that we can all work with.We don’t leave our brains and expertise at the door, but nor do we behave in archaic hierarchical ways or hide behind our name badges and lanyards.  Here in Morecambe Bay we have started this very process, using a set of values from ‘the art of hosting and harvesting conversations that matter’ – here is a link to one of our conversations in Morecambe:

http://aohhealthandwellbeingmorecombe.weebly.com

 

Over the next two years, our team will be working with communities right around this Bay to ask and explore some important questions, such as these:

 

  1. How do we begin well? Put another way – How do we enable our children to have the very best start in life? (This may include areas like breast feeding, bonding, parenting, healthy food, exercise and the massive public health issue that is child abuse – or adverse childhood experiences, or maybe issues like indoor vs outdoor learning, music, arts, sports, targets, sex, screen time, social media etc) – what are we going to do about this as a society?
  2. How do we live well? How do we face some of the issues we are now having to tackle? How do we square up to some of the nonsensical adverts, learn to laugh at them, rather than be sucked in by them and change the message?! How do we reconnect, heal our divides and learn to live well alongside each other? How do we heal our past traumas that have such a huge impact on our health and wellbeing now? How might we build the kind of economy that cares about people and the planet? How might we live in an altogether more healthy way? How do we become less dependent on a medical model to fix our problems and take a more holistic view of what it means to be well?
  3. How do we work well? How do we create work that cares for the future and sustainability of the planet? How do we work in ways that are beneficial to our health and by doing so actually help us to be more effective and efficient? How do we create a culture of kindness and compassion in our workplaces?
  4. How do we age well? How do face retirement, without it becoming  only a selection of cruises and alcohol (biggest problem drinking now in women over 60)? How do we connect three generations back to each other and enjoy life more fully together? How do we live well with increasing frailty and health issues? How do we understand the conditions we live with and learn how to manage them ourselves (self-care) as effectively as possible? How do we create the kind of social care that is compassionate, caring and serves to create community?
  5. How do we die with dignity? We must ask ourselves some difficult questions here. Why do we admit so many people to hospital from nursing and residential homes, when there is little evidence that they get better any faster and then end up blocking the beds? Why are we not more radically reallocating resources out into the community to care for people in these settings and in their own homes? Why are we so afraid of our own mortality and allowing people to die well in environments that are familiar to them, surrounded, where possible, by people who know them and love them? How can we face our own deaths well and plan for them in a way that makes the end of our lives better for us and those around us?

 

If we take each of those questions in turn (as we plan to do) and really talk together about how we make society and therefore our health and wellbeing better for everyone, rather than leaving it to others to make those decisions from on high for us, then I think we will achieve more than we could ever imagine possible. It is in discovering one another, in encountering the other that we can be transformed and find new ways forward together.

 

A people movement or social movement such as this will invigorate and create space for those within the systems not only to reconnect with our own humanity but enable us also to have braver conversations about how we can share our resources more effectively, work together more creatively and reimagine how we can provide the kind of health and social care that makes sense for the needs of the people we serve. We might not save £50 million, but we can’t continue with things as they are and if we talk and work together, we could make a really difference.

 

 

 

 

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Morecambe Bay – Better Care Together

Morecambe Bay

 

Knox Family-180Known for it’s fast moving tides, mud flats, quicksands, islands, rare birds, natural gas, submarine building and nuclear power; Morecambe Bay is a place whose motto is “where beauty surrounds and health abounds”. The first part is true – it is a place with some of the most spectacular views on offer in the entire UK and hidden treasures of wildlife and wonderful walks. A place where I live with my family and I now call home. But it has some of the worst health outcomes in the country, sitting bang in the middle of the North-West – the worst place for health per head of population for any of the regions in the UK. We are the worst for cancer rates, the worst for heart disease, the worst for respiratory problems and the worst for early deaths. And please avoid the rhetoric that would have you believe that it is because of low aspiration and poor choices made by the people here. The North-West is underfunded in terms of health training, according to Health Education England, to the tune of £19 million every year, when compared head to head for other regions. And given the fact that health outcomes are so poor here, it is fascinating that 94% of all health research monies are spent south of Cambridge.

 

Looking at the health system here, it would be easy to be disheartened. The recent Kirkup enquiry into drastic failures at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust, to which the trust has responded with humility and learning, highlighted just how much change is needed here. We also face the vast complexities associated with local tariff modification. And as if the local challenges are not enough, we have the added recruitment crisis that is affecting the entire country (worse in rural areas), the undermining of our junior doctors and their pay, the berating of nursing colleagues from overseas who don’t get paid enough to remain here, severely low morale in the system as a whole, and a maltreatment of General Practice in the National Press at a time when the profession is on the ropes; then there is the huge debt of the hospital trusts – compounded by the PFI fiasco and the creeping privatisation of our services, which has led to  the shambles that is out of hours care and staffing issues due to agency working. And iu-6all that is on the background of a hugely underfunded healthservice, with only 8.5% of GDP spent on health compared to the 11% most other OECD countries spend. The truth is, we simply do not spend enough of our GDP on health care for it to be sustainable in its current form, and the government knows this.

 

For the last three and a half years, I have been working here as a GP, having previously spent 14 years in Manchester. Three days a week, I work clinically in my practice, and the rest of my work time is given over to being part of the executive team for the Lancashire North CCG – I am the lead for Health and Wellbeing. Although the odds are stacked against us, something really wonderful is stirring here. I would go as far to say that believe it or not, Morecambe Bay is one of the most exciting places to be involved in health and social care anywhere in the UK. Let me tell you why I feel so hopeful (and why you should consider working here)!

 

Understanding the Purpose of Healthcare

 

iu-2A chap called, Phil Cass, who is an (unmet) hero of mine in the medical field, lives in the state of Ohio. He has been been doing some work with local communities to try and make healthcare affordable for everybody – a truly noble quest in a country where 50 million people cannot afford any. He took the conversation out to the community and they tried various questions, but found they weren’t really getting anywhere. He and team of people then realised that they needed to ask a better question. The question they needed to get to was “What is the PURPOSE of our healthcare system?” – Once the communities began engaging with this question, something remarkable happened – time and again, the same answer came through – the answer was this:- “to provide OPTIMAL healthcare to everybody.” The word optimal recognised that every person would achieve different “levels” of health depending on age, underlying health problems, genetics etc, but the vision of the community became that they wanted every individual and the community as a whole to live as well as they could. The community then realised that in order for this to be achievable, they had to fundamentally change their relationship with the healthcare system and this then made care much more affordable. Here in Morecambe Bay, we are taking a similar conversation to the 320000 citizens who live here.

 

Starting and Finishing with People

 

The NHS has become a horribly target driven culture and amidst the stress and strain, in which staff themselves often feel dehumanised, it is easy to forget what we are here for – human beings. Putting people (rather than patients) at the heart of how we think about health is a vital starting point.

 

FullSizeRenderSo, we are learning to truly engage with and listen to the people here. With the help of an amazng team, I have been hosting conversations here in Carnforth, in the form of ‘World Cafe’ discussions (a fantastic way to ensure every voice is heard). Our hope is that from Millom to Morecambe, we will see conversations springing up as we talk about how Morecambe Bay can become the healthiest place in the UK. And by being healthy, we do not mean just physical health. We are talking about mental health, social health (there really is such a thing as society!) and systemic health (including issues like road safety – still the biggest cause of death for our children, the environment and pollution, the real effects of austerity on our communities, the power of advertising and the high cost of healthy food). And as we talk with our citizens, we are not coming in with ideas of how to fix things, as though we are some kind of experts. People are the experts in themselves the their communities, and we have some expertise in a variety of fields. So, we have a meeting of equals. We are waiting to see what rises within the communities themselves and looking to support initiatives where that is wanted. Communities are having some really exciting conversations and some people are standing up to become ‘health and well-being champions’ (the photo is taken from a recent event, supported by our Mayor in Carnforth, looking to do exactly that), who want to help steward the well-being of the community and the environment. It is incredible to see how many people want to get more involved with making this area more “healthy”. Volunteers are springing up with ideas like gorilla gardening, shopping for elderly neighbours, cooking meals for those coming out of hospital, setting up choirs, starting youth clubs, community transport services to help housebound people get to appointments, cleaning up our streets, creating safe parks  and being hands on with support for those receiving palliative care. People are learning to ‘self-care’ and care for each other more effectively.

 

 

iu-3Atul Gawande, another hero, has written powerfully in his book ‘Being Mortal’ (a manifesto for change in how the medical profession deals with the whole topic of death). It challenges the ways in which we don’t face up to our mortality very well. We end up spending an inordinate amount of money in the last year of someone’s life on drugs which have a lottery-ticket chance of working, when all the time, we could help people live longer and more comfortably if we introducediu-7 hospice care earlier and treated people with compassion. We are looking to launch compassionate communities here, where we are not afraid to talk about the difficult issues of life. We want people to have the kind of care that allows them to make supported choices to live well, right to the end. Our BCT Matron, Alison Scott, is a true champion of this cause, along with Dr Pete Nightingale, the recent RCGP national lead of palliative care, Dr Nick Sayer, Palliative Care Consultant and Sue McGraw, CEO of St John’s Hospice.

 

From the moment of conception to the moment of death, we want people to have optimal health in Morecambe Bay. We want people to be able to live well in the context of sometimes very disabling and difficult circumstances and illness. We want to see care wrapped around a person, recognising that this cannot always be provided for by the current ‘system’.

 

Better Care Together

 

iu-4Before the government launched its five year forward view for the NHS, we were already in the process of learning to work very differently here, around the Bay. We have been blurring the boundaries between various care organisations (including the acute trust, the mental health trust, the GP practices – now forming into a more cohesive federation, community nursing in its various forms, the police, the fire-service, local schools, the voluntary sector, the county council and social services), building relationships between clinical leaders, sharing the burdens of financial choices and care conundrums, strengthening the pillars of the various players, redesigning care pathways across the clinical spectrum to ensure better care for patients and infusing everything we do with integrated IT.

 

 

The creation of integrated care communities (ICC) is at the heart of the vision to transfer more care out of the hospital setting and back into the community, whilst ensuring that the funding follows the patient. Our care co-ordinators become the new first port of call for our most vulnerable or ‘at-risk-of-admisison’ citizens. The idea is to wrap care around a person in the community, with the appropriate services being called in. Many times a care coordinator can bring in help from allied professions/volunteers and avoid unnecessary admissions or overlap of services. This means less pressure on the Emergency department and less pressure on General practice. We are also working to ensure our Urgent Care provision is fit for purpose with GPs, NWAS (our ambulance/paramedic service) and Out of Hours care offering much more of a buffer for our Emergency Departments.

 

 

Radical Leadership and the Challenges Ahead

 

 

There are many challenges ahead and both local and national threats remain. We are steering a huge ship through an iceberg field, and the so the waters are dangerous. We risk a lack of transfer of funding towards General Practice making it difficult for appropriate ‘buy-in’ for the changes we need to see. GPs ourselves have some brave leaps of faith to make. We will not be able to guarantee more money in our own pockets, but we must decide between protecting what we know or federating more fully for a more sustainable and excellent provision of care in the future (providing better education and career development in the process). We risk disengagement from senior clinicians in our hospital trust if the vision is not fully owned and shared by all. We have huge risks associated with the truly shocking cuts being forced upon our county council and a destabilisation of social care. We risk our nursing care home provision causing a halt to the entire program due to the vast complexities involved. Political whims, rules and pressures often seems to knock the wind out of our sails and could still utterly destabilise and destroy what is tenderly being built here.

 

 

mMiFlAqp_400x400However, one of the things which I have found most encouraging here is the quality and attitude of the leadership. Andrew Bennett as the SRO for BCT and iu-5Jackie Daniels, the CEO of UHMBT (the acute trust), have built stunning teams of people! I have the privilege of sitting on the executive board for the CCG and we have exec to exec meetings with the acute trust, in particular. The truth about Better Care Together is that for some it may mean doing themselves out of a job, letting go of power, and choosing facilitation and servanthood over domination and self-preservation. Leadership that is determined by the future and is able to lay itself down for the sake of what is really needed in our communities is exactly the kind of leadership we need. The leadership here across the spectrum is brave, it is altruistic, it is kenarchic, it is relational and it is rooted in the community.

 

 

And so we press on, knowing that we cannot remain as we are, knowing that in building together with our communities, we are finding that the future is not as bleak as it might otherwise be. Together we are wiser, braver and kinder. Morecambe Bay is no longer the butt of the jokes.  It is becoming a place of hope, a place of potential, a light that is beginning to burn, dare I say it – a place shaped by love. It will be a place where health abounds in the beauty that surrounds.

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