We have yet to really face up to the crisis we are in. We keep on pretending that by making a few alterations here and some adjustments there to how we deliver health and social care, we might be able to save the NHS. But this simply isn’t true. Last weekend saw a crisis conference for GPs nationally as 38% think they will be forced to leave the profession in the next 5 years due to severe under-resourcing and increased stress (that would be a loss of 10000 GPs throughout England, with government plans to recruit only 5000 by 2020). Yet again our Emergency Departments are at breaking point, Junior Doctors are staging further strikes, Public Health Services have been decimated and although new partnerships are being forged with social services and (to some extent) the education system, deep cuts in both those areas mean there is little time or energy left to find new ways of working for the future health of our population. Throw into the mix a need to save £22 billion through “efficiencies” and couple that with the crippling debt caused through programs like PFIs in our acute hospital trusts and we really do have a problem.
Complicating this picture is the stark reality that 1 in every 5 pounds spent in the NHS is as a direct result of our current lifestyle choices and we have believed a lie that the NHS is “free” and therefore we can treat it however we like and live however we want and it will somehow magically sort us out. On top of this we have an ageing population with increasingly complex health needs and an ongoing under funding of the entire system (only 8.9% of GDP).
And we cannot we forget the financial crash of a few years ago which was a major warning sign to us that we are living in a broken system and the god that is
the Nation State is beginning to crumble all around us. Let me just repeat that difficult statement in another way. The grandfather that is the Nation State is now utterly riddled with a cancer and it is dying. The cancer, like all cancers needs ever increasing growth in order to sustain it’s life and our economy is set up to feed it, but even built on the pyramid of power, control and debt, it can no longer survive. Like any dying man, it is holding on for dear life and as it does so, it puts the squeeze ever tighter on to health, education and other public services, pretending it is still powerful, controlling public services through the slashing of budgets and ever tighter and undeliverable targets whilst not actually dealing with it’s debt issue at all, but telling us all a story that it is. And the mouth of this dying beast, the media that has become utterly complicit with it all, spouts out tale upon tale of how mighty the State remains, “punching above it’s weight” on an International scale (using violence and threat where necessary to do so), but tightening it’s belt to ensure economic sustainability. Am I being dramatic? Listen, when 85 people now have more accumulative wealth than half the world and when the 50 richest global corporations are richer than the 50 richest Nation States (and are therefore powerful enough to tell them what to do), the facades must come down. The Emperor has no clothes on.
And so it is time to face the music. Once we realize that the centre cannot hold, we can permission ourselves to find new ways of being. There really are alternatives to what we have now. there are other ways of being. Life will go on. We can learn to dance to a different tune, we can sing a new song and begin to reimagine a different kind of future. We can learn to live differently. There are some tough conversations to be had. But, as the old systems begin to pass away, what might emerge instead? What brave or holy experiments might we try without letting go of the wisdom we have learned? What might it be like if politics and economics were just part of a collaborative and cooperative world rather than assuming the role of dominant sovereignty over every other sphere of society? What if we can’t have everything we want right now, learning some new and more effective boundaries around the ways we live? What might we prioritise? How might we move towards a more peaceful world? How are we going to live in a way that is sustainable and leaves the environment as a gift rather than a burden for the generations to come? How might we develop an economics of equilibrium (the state of a healthy body) rather than one of continual growth which requires us to feed its ever hungry belly with our own lives? What might we recover in education? How could we shape regional wellness services? How might cities and regions gift their expertise to one another? How might we choose to protect the most vulnerable in society and provide for the most deprived, keeping love at our core over self-preservation, greed, fear or hate?
Truthfully, we can no longer afford to avoid these conversations or hide away in our business. If we want things to remain exactly as they are, then so be it, but what will we leave for our children’s children? In the NHS we spend our lives trying to preserve and prolong life at all costs. But we must learn to face death, because there is life the other side of it. There is life the other side of the Nation State as we have known it. There is still ethical, free, safe, sustainable and accessible healthcare for all the other side of the NHS in its current form. It might become a National Wellbeing Service. Or it might be more regional and cooperative. It will mean some different lifestyle choices and some more effective partnerships. It will mean changing our attitude towards how and where care is provided. But I’m sorry to say that unless we make some radical choices to either pay a lot more tax or not renew trident and spend all of that money on healthcare, there are some deep cuts to be made in the mean time. It is going to be a very painful few years ahead. We must not imbibe ideologies that protect the rich and punish the poor. But we have to be brave enough to let go of the good we have known in order to embrace a future that is better for everybody together.
And that calls for a different kind of kenarchic leadership. We need leaders who will serve and collaborate with communities in open and honest conversations, so that cuts do not happen in an isolated boardroom, but with and among the communities most affected. Leaders must learn to ‘hold the space open’ for the new to emerge. It will mean understanding that we must make choices about which targets we do and don’t decide to meet, prioritising some services over others and taking better care of ourselves individually and in community. But it is not a time to lose hope! There is much goodness to come, much rediscovering to take place. Much creative reimagining to enjoy. Many songs to be sung. So, let’s face the music and dance.