We Have a Power Problem!

NHS – we have a problem! This blog forms a hiatus in the middle of a 4 blog mini-series about what I call the four rings of leadership (in the context of healthcare). I have been musing on some statements made at the IHI conference in London, Quality 2017, and before I go any further, I want to take a pause to reflect on the notion of power. Helen Bevan says that the number one issue facing our health care system is the issue of power. I would suggest that unless we seriously reflect on power and how it manifests itself in our systems and in us as individuals, then we will never be able to co-create health and well-being in our society.

 

In my last blog, I mentioned an excellent talk that I heard Derek Feeley of IHI and Jason Leitch, the CMO of Scotland, give together about our need to “cede” power, if we are to build safe, high quality, economically sustainable health systems. They contend that we need to move from keeping power, to sharing power and then ceding power. To cede power, means to transfer/surrender/concede/allow or yield power to others. I do believe this is correct. I believe that true leadership is absolutely about being able to ’empty out’ positions or seats of power, so that all are empowered to effect positive change and build a society of positive peace. However, my contention is this: ceding power is not helpful unless we first deal with the very nature of power. Once we have dealt with its very substance can we truly cede it through our organisations and systems to bring increased well-being for all.

 

I have talked many times over the dinner table with my great friends Roger and Sue Mitchell about the nature of sovereignty and power. Sovereignty is a dominant theme within our political discourse at the moment, at a national and international level. It is worth reflecting that sovereignty (the right to self-govern) is utterly intertwined with our understanding of power, and we need to pull the two apart if we are ever to cede the kind of power that can transform the future. If we do not recognise (have a full awareness/deeply know) this, we will continue to inadvertently create hierarchical dominance and systems that become the antithesis of what they are created to be.

 

 

We see the issue of sovereign power at work every day in the NHS. We see it in terms of power edicts from on high, without understanding the local context or issues worked through in a relational way. We see it in the way these edicts are then outworked through leadership and management styles, which are very top-down and hierarchical in nature, eating up people like bread in the process – what Foucault calls “Biopower”. We see it in the way wards are managed and in the way GP surgeries are run. Sovereign power says “I’m in charge around here” and “we’re going to do things my way”. We see it in individuals who choose to practice autonomously without thinking about the wider implications on the system, prescribing however they would like to, without thinking about the cost implications. We see it in the attitude of some patients, when it becomes about “my rights” with an unbearable or unaffordable pressure put onto the system. If we multiply sovereign power, we simply end up with lots of  kings and queens who defend their own castle, creating more barriers, walls and division in the process. Sovereign power is defunct and dangerous and it is this which is currently destroying our ecosystems and wider society. The “I did it my way” approach is rooted in self preservation and ambition and does nothing to help us build health and well-being in society. Sovereign power stands in the way the very social movements we need to see, because Sovereign power is based on fear.

 

Sovereign power has its roots in certain streams of theology and philosophy which have in turn laid the foundation for a way of doing politics and economics based on the supremacy of the state and within that the individual. However, the damaging effects of this are seen on our environment and on community, with utterly staggering levels of inequality, injustice and damage to the world in which we live.

 

If we are to truly cede a power that is effectual in changing the world, then it is not enough to simply reconfigure (rearrange) it, or reconstitute it ( i.e. give it a new structure/share it). First of all, we must revoke it! In other words, we must look ‘Sovereign power’ straight in the eyes and reject it, cancelling it’s toxic effects on our own selves and on that of others. We must change our minds about it and embrace instead a wholly different kind of power. Sovereign power has not changed the world for the better so far, and I hold no hope of it doing so in the future. No, we don’t need Sovereign power and we certainly don’t want to cede it. Instead, we need kenotic power. Kenotic power is based in self-giving, others empowering love (Thomas Jay Oord). It empowers others, not to live like mini-dictators, but to also dance to a very different beat.

 

I used to play the card game bridge, with my Grandpa (he was an amazing man, who invented Fairy Liquid!). In bridge, to revoke something is to fail to follow suit, despite being able to do so. Kenotic power refuses to play the game of Sovereign power. It embraces an entirely different approach. And as many through the ages have found, this kind of power is truly costly, and can even cost you your career or life; but it is the only kind of power that truly changes the world for good. Jesus, Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, Gandhi, MLK, Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, Florence Nightingale and Mother Theresa are just some, who have embraced this ‘self-giving, others empowering love-based power.’ This is the kind of power we need now. We need it in healthcare and in every other part of our society.

 

Kenotic power is vulnerable but it is not about being a door mat. It is like a beautiful martial art, in which we can say “I won’t fight you and you can’t knock me down, unless I let you” In other words, we lay down our rights and power freely, they are not taken from us by force. So, even when energetic attacks are launched against us, this kind of power allows us to move out of the way, allow the attack to pass through and then to come along side the person and help them see another point of view. Switching to this kind of power is far more creative, less combative and far more fruitful in creating a way ahead full of possibilities without the need for making enemies in the process. We must challenge the deep structural belief that our political and economic systems must be built on and can only be held together by Sovereign power. What if we developed systems based on love, trust, joy and kindness, aiming for the peace and wellbeing of all (including the environment?) – what might such a health system be like? It will take a social movement for us to get this shift, and as I wrote in my previous blog: You might call this a re-humanisation of our systems based on love, trust and the hope of a positive peace for all. But this social movement is not aiming for some kind of hippy experience in which we are all sat round camp fires, singing kum-ba-yah! This social movement is looking to cause our communities to flourish with a sense of health and wellbeing, to have a health and social care movement that is safe, sustainable, socially just and truly excellent, serving the needs of the wider community to grow stronger with individuals learning, growing and developing in their capacity to live well.

 

 

I agree wholeheartedly that the most important role of leaders is to cede their power, so that all can truly flourish, where there is a far greater sense of cooperative and collaborative agency within our (health) systems. But if we do not examine the nature of this power, we will only perpetuate our problems.

 
Martin Luther-King said these famous words – they are seriously worthy of our reflection:

 

Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

 

 

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The Junior Doctors And Lady Godiva

A few months ago I wrote a blog suggesting the right approach for the junior doctors was one of subversion and submission. But I think I was wrong. It’s not that I’ve changed my mind on the power of subversion and submission, it’s just that this entire spectacle surrounding the junior doctors, the ‘7 day NHS’, the strikes and the media reporting there of actually affects us all at a profound level.

 

bmalogo14This situation exposes something far deeper than just an argument between Jeremy Hunt and the BMA and is far more important than discovering who has the strongest will power. Infact, the BMA have made a major error in targeting Jeremy Hunt so vindictively, because in the final analysis, this isn’t about Hunt at all. Jeremy Hunt can be replaced in a moment, and is likely to be succeeded by a far more robust Jeremy Hunt nhsBoris Johnson, who will simply pound his fist more visciously. To make Hunt the scape goat narrows this debate to something far too insignificant and actually strengthens the government’s ability to do exactly as they please.

 

Sadly, however, all this proves is how defunct our current system of government has always been. What the government really want is a discussion about how we can improve patient access across the weekend timeframe. However, what they did was to decide this is necessary and went ahead to try to fix what is incredibly complex. There was no discssion, no real engagement, no conversation, no asking of the deep questions. Just because we want something, doesn’t mean we can have it! Just because we think something is a good idea, doesn’t mean everyone else will agree! The entire process of enagement and change management is not understood at all. In the first8790 place, the goverment could instead have said to all the hospital trusts across the country what their hopes and intentions were and then waited to see if this was workable, in what way and how much it would cost. But you cannot simply act like Pharoah and expect the brick makers to make ever more bricks with less and less resource available – otherwise, you face an exodus!

 

What this entire debacle demonstrates is just how far free market capitalism has gone in its use of people as biopower to drive the system. The junior doctors of the NHS are nothing more than fodder to make the machine run. It doesn’t matter at all to the government that their lovely idea of a ‘7 day NHS’ is both unaffordable (due to chronic underinvestment in the health service) and unstaffable (due to a combination of under-training of staff across the board, and free market forces which work against people remaining in the UK). What this exposes in its most blatant form, is the chronic and shocking abuse of power, because of the very structures we have in place and the foundations upon which our society is built – namely violence, debt and control. And so, we see the human being reduced to what Hardt and Negri call ‘naked life’.

 

_86375024_86375023The system, to which we must all bow doesn’t care for the needs of the people who work within it. It will force them to submit. Why should doctors (many of whom work for less than the minimum wage, when on call) be allowed time to rest at weekends? Why can’t everybody have routine care through the weekend, just as from monday to friday (even though most of our top clinicians think we need better emergency care and not routine access)? Surely our economy needs this kind of health service? And actually, whilst we’re on it, isn’t it a waste of time, allowing teachers to have weekends off as well? Don’t we need our children to work harder, or at least be given some sort of babysitting service, so we can get more for our pound of flesh from their parents? If we are to have a 24/7 health service, why not a 24/7 education service? Our shops are already open practically 24/7. In this commercial world – shouldn’t everything else follow suit? No, no and NO!!

 

SolidarityThis is why we need a revolution of solidarity and resistance. We need a people movement who will stand together and be brave enough to say that there is a different way to see the world and a new way to live within it. Our naked life itself, although currently abused, can become for us our greatest power. Our naked life can expose the truth of just how abusive our systems have become. Our naked life, when combined with the indestructable force of kenotic love, becomes the very agent of change that we need.

 

So, what next for the junior doctors? Should they strike next week, including for emergency care? Are they ready for the media (who have lost the art of journalism) to turn against them? Are they ready for the storm that will ensue? Well, lives have already very sadly been lost. How many more can stand under the strain? What if the public turn against their heros?

 

It is time for something deeper to take place. It is time for solidarity. It is time for those of us in senior positions to cover shifts and show our unreserved support. It is time for the public, not just teachers, but across the board, to stand with the juniors. As my friend, Julie Tomlin showed me, we have to learn from the arab spring that one march alone will not do it. March after march after march may be needed. And singing too!! Let songs be heard on the streets! And to Lady-Godiva_DSC_9412really demonstrate the power of naked life……how about naked marches?!! (I grew up in Coventry, and so the story of Lady Godiva is in my blood – nakedness overcame oppression once before!). Or maybe the staff of the NHS should all turn up to work with no clothes on?!! How about people stripping off at least to their underwear to expose both the fragility  and the power of naked life?!

 

There is a different way for humanity. We can free ourselves from the oppressive yolk that seeks to divide and rule us. Perhaps, the Junior Doctors could be more creative and expose the deep structures of oppression that lie beneath the calls for this ‘7 day NHS’? Now is the time for subversion, for exposing just how unjust our systems are. But subversion alone will not suffice. We need solidarity and resistance. So, who will stand and march with the Junior Doctors (naked if need be?!) for an altogether different future?

 

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