A Different Kind of Leadership for the NHS

Over the last few weeks we have seen the unfolding story of a health secretary in a battle with Junior Doctors (of which there are 53,000). Under-girding the entire debate is a manifesto promise made by the Conservative government that they will deliver a 7/7 NHS. There has been a misuse of statistical evidence by the government to inform this position and indeed we do already have a 7/7 NHS.

 

In order for this promise to become a reality, the government must face up to certain facts, which are obvious for all to see. Firstly, the NHS is underfunded and rearranging pay agreements with junior doctors who are already underpaid is grossly unfair and will not achieve the desired affordability. Secondly, the NHS is understaffed (we already have one of the lowest doctor to patient ratios in the EU). Thirdly, morale among NHS staff is low, and much of this is due to staff being used as fodder to drive the system, rather than cultivating a system in which they are cared for, can flourish and can influence change in the system where it doesn’t work. Pushing more work for less pay will not drive up morale! Fourthly, the slashing of local government budgets is causing a social care crisis that has huge implications on the ability of the NHS to function. Fifthly, public health budgets have been reduced to a bear minimum at a time when we know we need to have wider conversations with the citizens of the UK about how to take greater care of their own health and the health of their communities in order to make the NHS sustainable. Sixthly, the problems with weekend care in our hospital systems are a result of a lack of support staff and services available over weekends and a crumbling social sector which blocks up hospital beds. Needless to say, the situation is complex.

 

 

imagesAnd so, given such a complex problem, how should the system be lead and managed? With an iron rod? With bullying, top down hierarchy? With “visionary” leadership that knows how to do the “right thing”? With the defeat odownloadf the ‘militant’ junior doctors? What kind of system is the NHS? It is not a linear, predictable system, but rather something far more akin to a human body, a living, organic system. Meg Wheatley in her book, “Leadership and the New Science” writes powerfully about the folly of trying to manage complex systems as though they respond to the theories of Descartes and Newton – they simply don’t behave that way. And so, this kind of system cannot and will not respond best  to competition, targets, inspections and beating its members into submission. No, it will respond best to collaboration, to the right environment in which people can thrive. It requires the kind of leadership that will listen, that will work in partnership, that will host good conversations and find a way through together. I do not see that kind of leadership from the department of health.

 

imagesThe NHS is a national treasure. Yet, this government, with only 36% of the national vote, from an antiquated and unjust ‘first-past-the-post’ voting system, is driving through ideological changes that it has no true mandate from the people to execute. This kind of political behaviour exposes more than ever the abuse of sovereign power and the need for something totally different. We need leadership, but we need a new kind of leadership, a leadership that is loving, compassionate and kind, collaborative, listening imagesand releasing, a leadership that believes for the best and a leadership that invests in the kind of health service we need to deal with the health inequalities we see. We need that kind of leadership now. We need a different kind of government and a different kind of politics now. It is emerging in the margins, but we need leaders at the centre with a new kind of heart.

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UK, You’ve Had a Heart Attack – How Are You Now?

MIYou might want a cup of tea whilst you read this! I often see patients a week or two after they have been discharged from hospital with a Myocardial Infarction (what we often refer to as a heart attack). In this part of my home county, once someone is diagnosed with having a MI, they are admitted to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where an amazing team of cardiologists literally save their life by putting stents into arteries in their heart that have become clogged up. It has been a phenomenal breakthrough in medical science in the last 15 years and has revolutionised how cardiology services are configured.

New medicines are prescribed to help keep the heart and kidneys healthy and patients are reviewed to see how they are getting on. What I always love in the initial consultation following a heart attack is how reflective a person becomes. Everything in their life gets assessed and reprioritised. Key questions are asked about how much stress they have been under, and why they were living at such a fast pace whilst forgetting about what is really important – living well, relationships, love, beauty, people and connecting with the story of who they feel they really want to be for the rest of their life. It is very rare to find a person who is desperate to get back to business as usual or someone who doesn’t ask some fundamental questions about what life is for. It is possible in some of these consultations to have some of the best coaching conversations a practitioner can ever hope to participate in. Asking some questions of the patient about what they are going to change and how they are going to do so.

And yet, in the UK (and indeed the west), we suffered a heart attack beyond all proportions with the economic crash of 2008. But we have not really reflected on the major warning sign that it was to us. We have a government and financial system intent on “getting us back on track” – and I wonder to what, exactly? It isn’t that the financial system alone, just happened to have an infarction. It’s like assuming that a heart attack happens simply because of a defect in the cardiac system itself – this simply isn’t true. The crash was only a sign of just how broken our entire body is and we would do well to reflect a great deal more about how we are living as a nation and whether it gives us any real sustainability for the future of the planet and the generations to come. Our current response is not only to “get back on track” with where we were, but  to “tighten our belts” (which means to cut benefits left right and centre without regard for the dehumanisation of people in the process). It’s like believing the correct response following an MI is to emaciate and punish yourself, without asking some fundamental questions about how healthy your whole life is.

So, what about about a national health check – let’s look at each system in turn and ask some questions – because the truth is, we haven’t faced the fact that we are in an age of transition in which answers are not obvious and we don’t have any experts who have been to the alternative future we long for. So, we have to learn together and ask open questions that provoke better conversations to help us.

Let’s start with Education. George Monbiot has written a stunning piece in the Guardian about the current health of the education system: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/09/aspirational-parents-children-elite?CMP=share_btn_fb – well worth a read. Our education secretary, Nicky Morgan on the other hand isNicky Morgan intent on more testing of our children and has recently given a speech in which she claimed that arts and humanities subject choices close down a child’s career options and they will earn 10% more in their life if they do Maths at A level – whooppee do dah. For an alternative and altogether more inspiring approach, look to the lovely Ken Robinson:

Couldn’t education become about real learning in which our children feel inspired and find hope for the future?

Ecology – Oh dear – so far a string of broken promises on the environment from the western governments. It turns out that oil and industry is more important than the future of the planet. Is it? If not, what are we going to do?

Defence – undergirding our entire nation are three things: Money as debt (see finance), the state of the exception (see law and order) and military violence. The ultimate trust of our nation rests on nuclear warheads. How healthy is this? How much fear do we have to create as a narrative to believe this is actually a good thing? Do we want that to be the undergirding faith of our nation? And what about the change in rhetoric regarding soldiers who die in war. David Cameron recently referred to soil from the battle fields of WWI (which was brought to London) as ‘Holy Ground’ and he described those who died fighting for the ‘allied forces’ as ‘martyrs’. Is the nation state therefore the ‘saviour’? If it is, what on earth do we mean by this? If not, then is there other language we can find to use about the two world wars without creating a very dangerous worldview?

Housing – 69% of the land continues to be owned by 0.6% of the population and there is a real lack of social housing available in deprived areas. This is causing significant problems for those already under huge financial strain, given the effects of austerity measures. Who does the land belong to and why?

Justice – How many of the perpetrators of crime are victims of a system that left them with little or no other choice but to commit crime? How restorative is our justice process?

Law and Order – our prisons are full to breaking, our police force is being cut and replaced with private security firms. How effective is our law and order system? And what undergirds it? Georgio Agamben cuts through to the heart of the issue in his exquisite book ‘State of Exception’. Underneath the whole of western ‘democracy’ lies the right for the government to suspend the rule of law i.e. invoke Marshall law if deemed necessary. I look at the people movements emerging across Europe right now and wonder how far we are from the ‘state of exception’ being invoked. All it will prove, as we already know, is that democracy is a vain imagination. What is it that undoes ‘the powers’? Could a movement for positive peace, founded on love offer any realistic alternative? If so, what?

Immigration – apparently the answer to our problems is to become more fearful of the ‘other’, create a politics of fear and blame immigrants for our financial problems. We are barricading our doors Syrian Refugeesand building up our walls to ‘protect our way of life’. And while there are currently 4 million homeless Syrian refugees, the UK has welcomed 147 of them in total. Did you know that the entire world population could fit into Texas? Our concerns about lack of space and lack of jobs is really unfounded and we seem willing to ‘love our neighbours’ with great initiatives like comic relief and generous charitable giving, just as long as it doesn’t actually have to affect us and our way of life…..how loving is that? How healthy is love that does not truly cost us and change us?

Health – this whole blog is about it, but 1 in every 5 pounds spent in the NHS is due to poor lifestyle choices we are making. We can’t live imgresexactly how we want if we hope to continue with a health service that is free for everybody. How will we change the culture? Can we find innovative ways of working collaboratively within the system that breaks down the silos in order to work more effectively for the good of our national health? Is privatisation the answer? If not, what are we willing to change/protest about to keep it public?

Government – a majority with 36.4% of the vote? Deeply wrong. There continues to be profound disengagement with the system and a deep cynicism that the current style of government can bring any real lasting change. We need a new politics – what might that be like? Where are the leaders who will choose to facilitate instead of dominate?

imgresEconomy – ah yes, that old chestnut. Do we want an economy in which the gap between rich and poor continues to widen? Do we want a system in which the poor are punished whilst the rich are exonerated for their greedy crimes? The entire western economy is based on a system of debt that requires us to continually grow and expand our borders so that the debt can be serviced. We have become slaves to the economic beast. Where are the alternative experiments emerging? What can we learn from them? Are we brave enough to try something new? I have posted this before, on my other blog – www.reimaginingthefuture.org  but Charles Eisenstein is so worth watching:

The human heart provides us with a great metaphor. The health of our nation(s) is not good. We’ve had the wake up call, and if we’re not careful (this is a warning from a doctor, so take heed), the next heart attack will be even more catastrophic. We have to reflect on where we are and ask ourselves where our current trajectory will lead us. I don’t want to get back on track if it leads us to more depression, destruction and decay. I want to find the road less traveled by – the one that leads to life, hope, love, regeneration, recreation and a beautiful future for our children. So many questions. So much to learn.

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