Goldfish and What They Teach Us!

Last week, I had the privilege of listening to Prof Sandro Galea, from Boston State University talking on the subject: “What do guns, obesity and opiates have in common?!” It was an amazing walk through the world of epidemiology – and the answer? Well – all three things are hugely important problems, they are all complex and therefore simple solutions cannot fix them! 

 

Virchow, one of the earliest and most influential thinkers in the realm of Public Health famously said, “Medicine is a social science and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale.” Sandro Galea takes this idea and modifies this slightly, suggesting that, in fact, politics IS health on a large scale. In other words, if we don’t get health and wellbeing (of ALL people and the planet) written into every policy, then we will never tackle the huge issues of health inequality and environmental disaster. 

 

Sandro gave an amusing analogy about his pet goldfish. He told us that every morning, he goes downstairs and sees his lovely goldfish swimming in their goldfish bowl. He cares for them, makes sure they are well fed, doing their exercises, having time for mindfulness to build resilience and ensures their contraceptive needs are catered for. Sadly, one morning, he goes downstairs and finds all his goldfish are dead. He’d forgotten to make sure the water was clean. The fish were, in effect, swimming in a cesspit (needless to ask whether or not fish are meant for a glass bowl!).

 

He has developed several principles when it comes to thinking about epidemiology. Principle number 5 states: “Small changes in ubiquitous causes may result in more substantial change in the health of populations than larger changes in rare causes.” His goldfish illustration shows that the goldfish are surrounded by water and everything they do is influenced by the QUALITY of the water they live in; therefore water is a ubiquitous factor in influencing the fish and needs to taken into consideration EVERY TIME we want to improve the lives of the fish. His point is this: if we don’t care for the environment and the external factors that give us life and wellbeing, then our other little interventions are futile. The problem is that we spend so much of our time making interventions that we can measure and feel successful about, like giving people statins, getting kids to run a mile a day, encouraging breast feeding, getting people through the ED in a timely manner or even giving them smart technology to nudge them towards better health outcomes, but we pay little attention to tackling the much bigger issues of poverty, poor housing, or air pollution.

 

The biomedical model for tackling the huge issues of population health has failed and will continue to fail. Our politics and economic model is broken! We have simply not written health and wellbeing into every aspect of our lives and have developed patterns of education and work that are actually doing more harm than good and driving health inequalities and the health of our planet in the wrong direction. Therefore, where there is evidence that policy is actually making health inequalities worse, or damaging the environment, we must challenge them with the evidence base, and plain common sense!

 

I do believe that communities can together make a massive difference, and increasingly I recognise just how vital policy is in helping us shape a just and fair society and in stewarding an environment, which is sustainable for the future. Policy and law can be love-fuelled and compassionate, and they need to become so, because politics IS health and we need to re-imagine it as such.

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Solutions for the NHS Workforce Crisis

This week, the Kingsfund, one of the most respected think-tanks on health and social care in the UK declared that the current NHS staffing levels are becoming a ‘national emergency’.

 

The latest figures have been published by the regulator, NHS Improvement, for the April to June period.

 

They showed:

  11.8% of nurse posts were not filled – a shortage of nearly 42,000

  9.3% of doctor posts were vacant – a shortage of 11,500

  Overall, 9.2% of all posts were not filled – a shortage of nearly 108,000

 

NHS vacancies a ‘national emergency’

 

This is having a profound impact on staff who are working in the NHS now, with low morale, high stress levels, increasing mental health problems and people leaving the profession (either to go over seas, where pay and work-life balance is considerably better) or retire early. 

 

Increasing the number of doctors, nurses and midwives (all with considerable debt, mind you!), by 25% over the next 5 years is welcome, but it doesn’t solve the problem now, and it is unlikely to be enough, even then!

 

But, let’s take a solutions focussed approach. What can we do now? I think there are a few things we need to consider:

 

  1. I can understand how frustrating it is for the public to find that waits are longer to receive much needed care. When we’re anxious or worried about our own heath or that of a loved one, we are understandably at a position of higher stress. However, this staffing crisis is not of the making of the nurses, doctors and other health professionals who work long hours every day to provide the best health care they can. So, it’s really important that as a country, we treat our NHS staff with kindness, gratitude and respect. The current abuse of NHS staff is making the job even harder and really making people not want to come to work. And that means we also need to make complaints in a way that is perhaps a bit more compassionate or understanding towards people who are working under high stress situations. It is important that we learn from mistakes, but complaints have a huge impact on staff and can hugely affect their confidence, even when they are dealt with in a very compassionate way by those in leadership. 
  2. We need to ensure that we use our appointments appropriately. Yes – sometimes, we have to wait a while to see our GP, but if we get better in the mean time, we really don’t need to be keeping the appointment! And missing appointments costs us all so much time and energy and makes those waiting lists ever longer. If we value our health system, we need to either keep appointments, or take responsibility to cancel them.
  3. We need to take an urgent look at the working day of our NHS staff and work out how we build more health and wellbeing breaks into their days. We need staff to have space to connect, keep learning, be active, be mindful and take appropriate breaks. This means senior leadership teams getting the culture right, when the pressure is on and the stakes are high. 
  4. We need to get smarter with digital and enable patients to make better and more informed choices about their own care and treatment, with better access to their notes. In this way, we waste less time and empower people to become greater experts in the conditions with which they live everyday. There are great examples of where this is happening already. It isn’t rocket science and can be rolled out quite easily. It’s good to see some announcements about this from the new health secretary Matt Hancock MP, but we need to make sure the deals and the products are the right ones. It’s also vital, when it comes to digital solutions that Matt Hancock listens to his colleague and chair of the health select committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, in being careful what he promotes and prioritises.
  5. We need to be thinking NOW about the kind of workforce we are going to need in the next 2-3, and 5-10 years and we need to get the training and expectations right now! There is no point designing our future workforce based on our current needs. Rather, we need expert predictive analysis of the kind of future workforce we will need, in line with the ‘10 year plan’ and begin to grow that workforce now. If it’s healthcoaches we need to work alongside GP practices, then let’s get them ready, if it’s community focussed nursing teams, then let’s adjust the training programmes. This kind is vital and must influence what happens next.
  6. We need to stop putting pressure on NHS staff to deliver that which is currently undeliverable without causing significant stress to an already overstretched workforce. By this I mean centrally driven schemes, such as the intended roll out of GPs working 8-8, 7 days a week. Maybe it’s an aspiration for the future if we can sufficiently reimagine the workforce, but it’s not a priority now and isn’t the answer to the problems we’re facing.
  7. We need to stop the cutting of social care in local governments, and ensure that central funding flows to where it needs to be, to ensure the allied support services are present in local communities to work alongside NHS colleagues in getting the right care in the right place at the right time. This is the single biggest cause of our long ED waits and our problems with delayed discharges from hospital. It isn’t rocket science. It’s the reality of cuts to our social care provision, which have been too deep and this needs to be reversed.

 

Personally, although it is an option, I feel uncomfortable about a ‘recruitment drive’ from overseas, as it is very de-stabilising to health care systems in more deprived parts of the world when we do that. I think there are some win-win initiative we could develop pretty quickly that could also form part of our international development strategy.

 

In summary, we need to treat our NHS staff with kindness, look after their wellbeing, use our services appropriately, use digital technology with wisdom and not for political gain, redesign and start building the workforce of the future now, stop undeliverable initiatives and ensure the right funding and provision of services through social care which means central government funding back into local government. It won’t solve everything, but it will go along way towards giving us a more sustainable future to the NHS.

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Health and Society – Can we make a Difference? Part 1 – Economics

Tweet If we want to make a difference to health and wellbeing in society, tackling health inequalities, whilst protecting the health and wellbeing of the environment and creating a fair and just save for humanity…..we have to ask ourselves some searching questions about whether or not our current economic models are really fit for purpose. [Continue Reading …]

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Creating a Great Culture – Part 1

Tweet I’ve recently finished reading the extraordinary book, “Legacy”, by James Kerr. It is a book about the culture of The All Blacks, the most “successful” sports team in the world. If you are involved in leadership, at any level, especially if you are passionate about developing the culture of your team, I would heartily [Continue Reading …]

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Who is Responsible for Your Health?

Tweet Who should take responsibility for you health? Sounds like a straightforward question, doesn’t it? But I get so frustrated when complex issues get squashed into simplified, silo-thinking, ready for twitter or media sound bites, or the under-girding of political ideologies. So….just as the economy is not just made up of the interplay between business and [Continue Reading …]

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What Next for General Practice?

Tweet Last week, I had a sixth form student spend the week with me. She is hoping to go to medical school and is gaining the necessary work experience ahead of her applications. It was so great to be able to share with her the variance of my work and the great privilege it is [Continue Reading …]

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Hosting Conversations That Matter

Tweet In my last blog, I was exploring how some of the biggest determinants of our health and wellbeing have very little to do with healthcare at all. They are societal issues, with huge implications on how we live together. Issues like poverty, homelessness, loneliness and adverse childhood experiences are far greater drivers of health [Continue Reading …]

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Social Movements and the Future of Healthcare

Tweet As the crisis in the Western World deepens, and the growing reality sets in that business as usual simply can no longer continue nor solve our problems, our systems must change the way they view, deal with and hold onto power. The NHS is no exception. If we want a health and social care [Continue Reading …]

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The Art of Hosting Good Conversations – Morecambe

Tweet Here is a video about a brilliant couple of days a bunch of us had in Morecambe, talking about how we discover what it is to be healthy and be part of a social movement to improve the health and wellbeing of everyone: Share This:

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Our Nation’s Biggest Public Health Problem

Tweet The subject of this blog is sensitive and difficult. It may stir up some difficult issues or memories for you, as you read. If this happens, then please take time to seek the help you need. I believe this blog and ones to follow might be some of the most important I have written to [Continue Reading …]

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