For those of you who have read previous blogs of mine you will know I have been working in the NHS for 16 years. That’s my whole adulthood to date. So I can safely say that be it right or wrong, the NHS feels engrained within me, that it makes up part of my DNA and who I am. Prior to the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme I worked as a nurse for 14 years I have been privileged enough to have had hundreds of people who I have cared for touch my life and leave a lasting impression on me, one that drives me to keep going and reminds me why I hold the NHS so close to my heart. I have witnessed new life enter the world , instantly creating new mums and dads, old life leaving it alongside a huge void in their soul-mates life and others taken prematurely, leaving a cruel and unjustifiable bewilderment to those left behind. I have held hands of people in the naïve hope that my hand would be enough to ease their pain and suffering and often because they were scared, heartbroken or dying.
As many people on the frontline of care know, we are there being strong, supporting, hoping, healing, and when we can do no more for our patients, we often find a quiet room to express our own emotion and to let out the pain we hopefully helped ease from our patients. We self-heal and we move on ready to help the next person.
For me that’s what a healthcare system is about, being there, reaching out, helping and healing where we can, be that physically or emotionally. But more simplistically what the healthcare system is about is people. People like you and I. I often hear people refer to ‘the public’ or ‘our patients’ and this can sometimes sound so far removed. The public is us; the patients are you and I.
I am guilty sometimes of thinking that ‘the system’ with its bureaucratic ways is to blame for the frustrations I sometimes feel, the system lets us down and the system fails us as users and as staff working in it. I know I am not the only one, how many times do we hear ‘the system’ or see it written. I have recently questioned myself on this, what actually is the system? After much reflection I have concluded that actually this is not about a system, it’s about people. People make up our NHS, we are the ones who design the cogs and who turn them.
The NHS whichever way you look at it is about people. So when we talk of changing our system, we should talk about changing people and to do this we need to understand that people are complex, emotional and completely unique as individuals. Our staff management needs to be as individualised as our patient care. Surely we can see parallels in how our ambitions for compassionate care for patients will equally benefits the staff that care for them.
Yet I wonder how much we actually do this, or if we sometimes just broad brush people as all having the same needs and being capable of understanding and communicating in the same way. We need to move away from talking about systems and processes to talking about people.
I worry that if we fail to understand and act on the complexities of the human factor we will never address the issues around culture change, and that this will lead to people feeling undervalued, demotivated, frustrated and often powerless to contribute to the solutions that the NHS needs. I won’t even go so far as to say this is about leadership and being authentic, because I think these words can sometimes lose meaning when used too often, this is about understanding what makes people who they are and understanding and connecting with it, call it what you like, I call it being human.
So imagine if we got this right, if we focused on people, individuals and values and moved away from describing the NHS as just ‘a system’. I believe that we could really harness the power of people not the power of authority, resulting ownership, empowerment, happy nurtured and cared for staff who contribute and help find solutions to ensure the NHS is there for their people, the future generations of the world.
I was saddened to hear recently of the death of Maya Angelou, a great woman, leader and inspiration to human kind. She said this:
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’
I think this is more pertinent today for us than ever, it’s true, so please be considerate how you make people feel, they are human just like you.