Doing the Impossible – Turning the Tide!

It’s time to do the impossible. It’s time to turn the tide.

imgres.jpgIn my last blog, I talked about the exponential potential of what could be possible if clinicians worked together in a more collaborative way. However, far more can be achieved if we work together in and with our communities to create a social movement together around being more healthy and well. I’ve talked previously about the “battle royale” that occurred between Béchamp and Pasteur over whether we should promote health or fight disease. The answer is, of course, that we need to do both, but the clinical community is not equipped with the resource or power to do it alone.

What we cannot accept, though, is our current apathy or malaise that some of the health imgres.jpgcrises we now face are too much for us to do anything about. We are in the midst of a battle, which we are currently losing and it is time to gird our loins for a turning of the tide. Here in Morecambe Bay, we have started a conversation, not just among the Clinical Community but with the wider population about how we might become the healthiest place in the UK. Yes, we mean this in a very holistic way, but there are also some specific foci we have so we can together reverse some of the appalling health statistics we are facing.

For too long, we have simply laid down and allowed exercise to be taken out of schools, whilst our kids consume a bath full of sugar every year. All the time our own work and eating habits have become significantly unhealthy. We have relied on expensive drugs to fix our problems, rather than tackling the root causes of our excesses. It has lead to 1 in every 5 pounds in the NHS being spent as a direct result of our lifestyles and 1 in 11 pounds being spent on diabetes. We say we value the NHS above anything else as a nation (maybe an issue in it’s own right…..) but we do not behave in ways that show this value to be true. We have not been brave enough to challenge the status quo and together make a wholesale change both about how we promote health and look to aggressively reverse it when things begin to go wrong.

images.jpgI suggest that within a generation, if we wanted to, we could render Type 2 Diabetes a rare diagnosis. We can do this through encouraging far more healthy lifestyles in our children and young people now, like running a mile a day and learning to eat food that doesn’t actually harm them! I believe we could significantly reduce the need for so many people to be taking medication for hypertension and diabetes now, prevent many strokes and heart attacks, by being violent towards these conditions with major changes in lifestyle, though diet and exercise, rather than the prescription of drugs, using coaching, peer support and local champions to give psychological motivation and encouragement. We are beginning to have some excellent discussions and develop some exciting plans around this.

Our NHS health checks should serve as a major motivational opportunity for someone toimgres.jpg pull themselves back from the brink of a lifetime of medication and we should use all medication reviews as a chance to help people adopt lifestyles that might reverse the need for such drugs. In the process, we would also significantly reverse our number of cancer diagnoses – many of which are linked to our lifestyle choices. We simply can’t afford for our current and failing approach to continue. We need to be braver together! And this means the NHS must be willing to partner in new ways, not only with local people, but also with businesses like the major supermarkets to help reverse our current direction towards the abyss, in which there is no longer a healthcare system that serves the needs of everyone, no matter where they come from or how much they do or don’t earn.

Don’t get me wrong! We should absolutely use medication to its fullest use for those who are at risk and have not responded to major lifestyle changes. For example, we can wage war on Atrial Fibrillation, ensuring far more appropriate use of anticoagulation, in the most cost effective and safest way, therefore preventing many life-changing strokes in the mean time. And for those who, despite lifestyle measures, still have a high blood pressure or continue with diabetes, we should not withhold medication that would prevent major issues later on. It’s just at the moment, we’re reaching for the prescription pad too readily and not looking to reverse conditions completely before they set in. We need more education out there around the early signs of cancer, so we can hit it early and reverse it’s effects when we have a better chance. Respiratory disease is another area where we could seriously make a change. We need to think of ourselves as one big respiratory team, tackling smoking, housing damp and carpeting, whilst ensuring every person has an understanding of their condition, how to use their medication effectively and what to do when things flare up. A cohesive clinical community really could deliver something special in each of these disease areas.

We could also be a great deal more effective in how we care for the frail elderly. We don’t need anywhere near as many hospital beds. We can provide care in residential and nursing homes, avoiding double payment for beds, by shifting resource out of our acute hospitals and into the community. We need to have a far more grown up conversation about why we admit people to hospital when there is very little proven benefit of doing so.

Taking a strategic shift towards a social movement for health, significant lifestyle changes and treatment only after these things have been given serious attention, but unapologetically so once they have, we can turn back this battle at the gates and change the health of this nation for generations to come. We can undo the unaffordable situation we find ourselves in and discover together a much more healthy future.

images.pngWe can absolutely do this!! It’s going to take some serious resolve and we’re going to have to withstand the fear and pressure of some pretty powerful lobbies, like the sugar, alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical giants, and perhaps even the government itself, but it is time for us to do the impossible. With love, hope and faith, we can do this! Yes we need to focus on schools and work places. Yes, we need to partner with organisations we’ve never worked with before. Yes, we need a far more effective media strategy and yes, we need to allow clinicians to work very differently. But we cannot do nothing. So let’s try something a whole lot more radical. That’s what we’re going for in Morecambe Bay – not just better care together, but better health together – you can watch and wait, and see if we sink or swim, or you can join us!

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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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