What Lies Beneath?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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The Transformative Power of Listening

One of the hats I wear is to be the Clinical Lead Commissioner for Maternity Services in North Lancashire and I chair the Maternity Commissioning Group for Morecambe Bay. iu-1Over the last few years, Morecambe Bay has been under huge public and governmental scrutiny due to some sad and significant failings at UHMBFT, our acute NHS Trust. This lead to the in-depth and wide-ranging “Kirkup Review” through which we have learned together some sobering and important lessons.

 

In 2013, we carried out what is called a ‘Picker Survey’ in the Bay and had a startling reality check. 44% of the women we aimed to care for told us that they did not feel treated with kindness or respect. It was a devastating figure for us to hear. So, learning from the ‘Leeds Poverty Truth Challenge’, we learned that we needed to allow ourselves to really listen to what women were saying to us, to hear their stories and let the impact of those stories begin to change us. One of the great advocates for women, compassionate care, kind listening and careful communication in this area is Mel Gard, a Doula, who facilitates our ‘Maternity Services Liaison Committee’ (MSLC) around the Bay. The MSLC is a group of women and men who use our services, which Julia Westaway must be credited for facilitating so well. Over the last three years in particular, they have taken the time to build relationships with those of us whoiu-4 commission and provide services and in effect ‘speak truth to power’. Mel and many others have brought to us stories of times when listening and communication skills have been excellent within our maternity service and times when they have been clumsy at best and detrimental or abusive at worst. This has begun a culture change and a survey carried out in 2015 has seen this startling figure reduce to 26% (we know this is still far too high, but it is a vast improvement).

 

It is only in encountering the ‘other’ that we are really changed. Alan Alda says this, “Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.” There is no point in hearing the stories and impact of poor communication on our patients if it does not fundamentally change us and our practice. In the NHS, we’re so used to being the experts that we sometimes think we have the right to tell people what they should do, rather than really listening to them and understanding what is important to them, the person who is the expert in their own life and situation. It is partnership and not dictatorship that we need. It is a willingness to learn together rather than an arrogance that knows how to ‘fix’ things that we must develop. So, together with the MSLC we have devised an entire learning exercise for all those who work within our maternity service. We are going to allow ourselves to encounter the ‘other’, on their terms, not ours, and let the impact of their stories transform us. So, in the next couple of weeks, women from around the Bay are going to film and tell their stories in a variety of ways and this film will then be used as a learning tool for every person who works in our service around the Bay, including cleaners, the nursing auxiliary team, midwives, obstetricians of all grades etc in some wide-ranging attitudinal and communication training. Amazingly, we have just won a national grant of £65000 to help us do this really well, thanks to the exceptional work of Lindsay Lewis, our lead manager and Sascha Wells, our Head of Midwifery.

 

NAWIFUThe idea is straight forward. By hearing the real life stories from around the Bay and allowing ourselves to be impacted by them, we will then use some reflective conversations, and techniques from the ‘Art of Hosting’, to allow the power of real listening to change us and transform our practices. I am so grateful for the women and men who have been brave enough to tell their stories. I am grateful to our senior team that we have bimgreseen willing to be humble and be impacted by these stories. I am grateful for relationships and partnerships that are being established between those of us who provide services and those who use them. I am grateful for the tenacity of people who want to see our cultures change. I am grateful for ‘The Leeds Poverty Truth Challenge’ and its far reaching consequences. I am grateful for the opportunity to break down barriers and find positive ways forward. I am grateful for the transformative power of listening and the change that can happen when we really encounter another human being. Better Care Together is so much better when we work together with those we are trying to serve.

 

Stanley Hauerwas said this: “I was smart, but I had not yet learned to listen.” The NHS is full of really smart people. When we learn to listen, our ‘smartness’ will become real wisdom, and with wisdom, we can bring real, lasting change.

 

 

 

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