A Collaborative Clinical Community 

*Warning – this blog contains swear words (not that I’m usually a potty mouth!)

This last week we had a gathering of clinical leaders around Morecambe Bay – Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Health Visitors, Midwives, Doctors, Surgeons, Physiotherapists, Pharmacists etc. We were gathered from across primary and secondary care to look together at the financial deficit we are facing as a health community across the Bay where we are seeking to serve our population.

The debt we’re facing (a hole of around 38 million of our English pounds!) is no small thing. Most of it is historic and much of it had nothing to do with us. I spent my first eighteen months as a commissioner feeling furious at the government. I wanted to rail against the machine, the injustice of working in such an oppressive, top down and hierarchical system, which feels like being among the Hebrew Slaves in Egypt when they were told to make the same number of bricks with less resource available to them. I felt so angry with the fact that we invest so little of our GDP into health and social care compared to similar countries and when further unthought through policies were dictated from Whitehall, I felt a total rage. It doesn’t help being politically pretty far to the left and working under a regime to which I feel ideologically opposed.

But one day, I realised two things. The first thing I realised is that the government are not going to change their position or policy. Our systems of government are not set up in a relational, collaborative or solutions focussed way. It doesn’t have to like this, but this is the way it currently is. Our systems have become the very antithesis of their purpose. Rather than serve the needs of the people, the people now serve the systems. The second thing I realised was that my anger didn’t achieve anything except to make me feel tired, disempowered and stressed. I had retreated into the less healthy parts of my personality in which I was keeping false joy alive and feeling burnt out in the process.

Truth has the ability to set you free. When we face truth, no matter how painful, it gives the choice of being more free. Facing up to the truth that the government are not about to change their modus operandi and that I was feeling angry and stressed allowed me to step out of rather childish thought processes and step into something altogether more wholesome. It allowed me to step out of a false sense and rather oppressive noun of responsibility and gave me the space to think more creatively about how I am part of a community of people who can respond to the situation we find ourselves in. We can respond (verb) once we step out of the oppressive yolk of responsibility (noun).

So, those of us in clinical leadership may have not created the financial situation, but there are some stark realities for us to face up to. Whether we like it or not, our current ways of working carry much waste, caused partly by the way the finances of the system operate, but also because we have not thought of ourselves as one. There are ways we behave within the system that create more financial problems and do not serve the community as well as we could. And so it is time for us to do what we can, within our gift by being much braver in our approach. I am suggesting that there are three Cs that are vital to our future.

  1. Collaborative

imagesWe need to reimagine ourselves as all being part of a team who are together tackling the health crises we are facing. We know only too well that, as just one example among many, we are failing kids with asthma because we have not joined up our resources or thinking adequately enough. Yes there are major issues with housing, smoking and pollution, but let’s not point the finger or push the problem somewhere else. Let’s use the phenomenal brains God has given us to pull the right people round the table and work out what we’re going to do about it. Let’s change the way we spend our time so that we’re in schools, we’re listening to our communities and we’re partnering together outside of our normal comfort zones to change the health of the generations to come. We know only too well, that if we don’t shift our focus towards population health and work more intentionally with our communities, doing things with them rather than too them, we will never win this battle. We’re not about playing political games. We are about working with our communities to create optimal health for every person no matter who they are or where they are from. We need to be braver, push the boat away from the shore we know and face the uncertain waters of working altogether differently. In my next blog I will explore some of the possible ways we could work differently.

2) Clinical

In order for the NHS to adapt and become sustainable for the future, we must not be afraid of clinical leadership. Our managers have a phenomenal set of skills, which we must draw on, but there is a trust we have amongst the communities we are embedded in that means they will trust us, if we engage with them properly that will allow us to turn this ship in a new direction. We must partner with our managerial colleagues, but be braver about the direction in which we know deep down we need to head in. We have gained so much expertise and trust and this is not a time to waste it or bury our heads. We must be braver and bolder in our vision of what we can really achieve together.

3) Community

iuAs clinicians we must, as many have stated this week, build bridges not walls. There is far too much division, suspicion and competition amongst us. (Here comes the swearing)…..I was in a conversation with a consultant colleague recently and he was relaying to me that another consultant referred to GPs as a “bunch of Fuck Wits”. In a separate conversation, one of my GP colleagues referred to consultants as a “bunch of arrogant Shits”. These kind of attitudes pervade the NHS and have created a culture of dishonour, distrust and division. Honestly! We’re better than this. How are we going to create the new workforce of the future that works across our currently artificial boundaries if we don’t teach them basic respect? This week a patient came to see me because he was dismayed at having to have seen a nurse at the hospital after suffering a significant condition and wanted to check that I, as a doctor, was happy with what he had been told. I could have laughed it off, but I wanted to stand up for my nursing colleague, who actually has far more expertise in this area of medicine than I do. The advice he had been given was perfect and completely in line with the best guidance available. We must not be afraid to challenge attitudes that are antiquated and out of place. More than ever, we need a culture of honour. A culture of honour is one in which we believe the best of each other, speak well of each other and appreciate our brilliantly necessary but differing gifts and expertise. We need to work out how we work effectively together for the best of the people we serve. We need to connect with each other and rehumanise the system in which we work. When was the last time you met as a cross cultural or multidisciplinary team and simply told each other what you love and appreciate about each other and the work you do? If we can’t learn to be more relationally whole, we will continue to work in the midst of serious dysfunction and strife. Come on – amongst us we have some remarkable gifts of wisdom, healing and hope. Let’s build the kind of culture and community amongst us that stands shoulder to shoulder, changes the story in the media and speaks with one voice to the powers that we are about the a new way of working together through relationship not hierarchy and fear. What might we really achieve together? It is this kind of collaborative clinical community that can change the future of healthcare, not just in the UK, but right across the globe.

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A Healthier Story

So, we start 2017 with General Practice “skating on thin ice”, the NHS as a whole “creaking on the edge” and major concerns over funding and waiting times. Why don’t we step outside of that rather repetitive and boring story, and find a new one together – one that resonates far more with the ancient paths we once knew?

 

The world is changing, and not in a good way. We are becoming more separated from each other, our organisations and systems dehumanise us and we are becoming less well. The story that the ‘benevolent hand’ of the free market will work everything together for good is exposed in it’s nakedness, like the Emperor’s new clothes. The fabric of our society is unwinding as we become more disconnected from our own sense of wellbeing, our communities and the land on which we live.

 

How do we recover a sense of wellbeing? Where will we find healing for our past, present and future? How can we expand our own vision of what it means to be well, focusing not only on our physical health, but also on our mental, spiritual, social and systemic health?

 

How might the General Practice community move from being a group of health heroes, who fix people when they are unwell, to letting go of that old and unsustainable paradigm, learning instead to co-host, with others, an environment in which a community can be healthy and well? It doesn’t mean doing away with skills that have been crafted, but using them to empower others to be partakers and not only recipients. What if GPs or ICCs (Integrated Care Communities) faced up to the fact that they don’t have all the answers, nor the resources, nor the power to fix the problems in their local populations? What if they allowed themselves to become more of a part of their community, rather than separate or slightly aloof from it? What might a co-operative model look like? If every patient owned a small share of the practice and it truly ‘belonged’ to the community, just how radically might things change, without the need for huge ‘take overs’ by local hospital trusts or private healthcare firms? If we are to find a new way forward, we must all be willing to let go of what we have known and the power which we hold. We have to let go of our need to chase the money and imagine that we are like the city of Detroit, declare ourselves bankrupt, financially and spiritually and then together, break down the walls that keep us separate and find our way together.

 

When we host spaces in which communities can come together, rather than trying to be the experts who know how to fix everything, we let go of our need to be the heroes and come into a space for shared learning. As I spend time with a community of people recovering from various addictions in Morecambe, I find I don’t have the tools to fix things. However, I do find, that together there is a huge heart for a better and more healed society for everyone, so that others do not need to find themselves in the grip of addiction. We need to know less and find more corporate wisdom. We need to share our gifts and find the beauty of reciprocity – that it is in the giving and receiving of one another that we find a way forward in positive peace.

 

The future of our health and wellbeing relies far more on our interconnectedness and our community than on the systems we have built. Our systems must give way to become subservient to the longing of our hearts rather than the task masters which drive how we organise ourselves and live out our lives. Co-operative community gives us an opportunity to live something much more radically loving and kind, in which people and the planet really matter. Today is epiphany! A day in which some people with real wisdom realized that God came as a baby, weak, helpless and in need of community for health, wellbeing and development. If God is and needs community, how on earth have we become so disconnected from that story and made our whole way of being about experts and empires? Here is an epiphany for 2017. If God did not come as an imperial expert, but in weakness and humility, we need to do the same, if we are to find any hope for the future. The system will not change from the top down, it’s too invested in the broken story to be able to do so. But we, the people, can together be cogs that turn in new ways and realign ourselves with a way of being that brings better and more holistic health for everybody, everywhere.

 

 

Here is another interesting blog, from a slightly different perspective about how community really is the future of medicine – well worth a read, when you can make space for a nice cuppa and some left over Christmas cake (good for your wellbeing)!

 

The Future of Medicine is Community

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