There’s a major blockage in the NHS, but not in A&E departments. No, it’s in its communications.
This morning I stumbled on a web page from the NHS that arguably exemplifies all that’s wrong with our much-valued health service.
The page details its “Quality, Service Improvement and Redesign ‘Train the Trainer’ programme”. The first symptom is right there in the title. What?!
There’s more. It says it’s “a fantastic opportunity to develop people within your own organisation or system to spread the required skills and knowledge through a tried and tested learning and development programme”.
That word “system” in a document from a patient-serving organisation brought me out in a rash. And would they really be running it if it weren’t “tried and tested”?
(A doctor would never describe a pill as “tried and tested” before telling you to take it – it’s a given.)
It gets worse.
“These new trainers will be skilled up and quality assured by the Advancing Change Team”. “Skill up”?! But at least it’s a relief to know our taxes are paying for an Advancing Change Team, instead of wasting that money on more doctors and nurses. This is a big investment – spread across seven months, the programme consists of five one-day workshops and “a closing knowledge exchange event”, whatever that is.
Anyway, this could be just the programme for you if “your organisation is working towards delivering sustainable improvement projects and embedding a culture of continuous improvement which will be sustainable in the long term”. If it is, frankly, I think you’d be better off lying down in a darkened room until your mental function returns to normal.
Let’s remember this is a programme to make the NHS ultimately serve patients better – that’s you and me – perhaps fix broken legs faster, make cancer patients live longer or save more premature babies. Am I over-simplifying it? No – that’s what it boils down to, that’s what we all want. So please don’t talk of “sustainable improvement projects”.
The QSIR people will probably defend their piece by arguing it’s aimed at NHS professionals, not lay people like me. But the more this kind of language is used, the further NHS staff become from those they serve. Talk normally and write normally and you’ll speed up understanding both in and outside the organisation.
In their defence, the short videos on the web page, including one featuring Steve Fairman, (Interim Managing Director, NHS Improving Quality) are better – in short, more human – though I’d still like to make a few suggestions.
But for now I’ll simply make a genuine plea to Mr Fairman: please ensure that the Improving Quality brief prioritises communication. In other words, as a former Health Editor on the Daily Express, I’d say don’t use any terms you wouldn’t find in a national newspaper.
I know this will make uncomfortable reading for the QSIR team. I don’t doubt they’re good people and their motives are well intended. But the NHS is the most people-focused organisation in the country. Not only that, it’s one that all working people fund.
That’s an enormous responsibility and so I urge the QSIR people to take a fresh look, to swallow this bitter pill, as well as some pride and a linguistic laxative, because that way a great prognosis lies.
And I say that as a huge fan of the NHS.