I read the news today. O boy.

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Posted 12:38 Wednesday 11 January 2017
Nick Goodman

Nick Goodman

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It's good to talk

No – not one of The Beatles’ finest tunes but really, the news. It was a bit bleak. I think maybe it’s a bad idea to look at the news anyway in January – it's cold and wet, the festivities are over, we are reflecting back on missed opportunities and things we could have done differently, the year ahead looms large, we have set ourselves too many unrealistic goals like job, diet and lifestyle changes, and as week 2 kicks in things are starting to wobble. But this January seems a particularly bad time to look at the news. Politics aside and whatever the colour of your flag, it was an uneasy year. Most of us don’t like ‘big change’ or at least ‘big change with no clear idea of what that change is going to look like’…and 2016 had a lot of that. And it’s continuing. The European referendum, party leadership upheaval, skulduggery and discontent of all shades, European leadership uncertainty and the rise of the far right, the US election and apparent new age of literally being able to say whatever is needed to get elected or to get a result, fully knowing that it is a lie or cannot be delivered (e.g. Mexican walls, £350m new money for the NHS), the refugee crisis, terrorist atrocities beyond comprehension, earthquakes and other natural disasters…I am not going to list it all. But it’s not good.

And when we hone in on the health sector – literally every day there is a new alarm bell going off. Again January is never the best time to take a snapshot of what is going on in the health sector. I am 46 and I don’t think I can recall a January when we were all saying how well we were getting through the winter months and how on top of things we are. But still. In the past 48 hours the Red Cross have declared NHS A&E a humanitarian crisis and the Government is gently manoeuvring the language to, critics would say, relax what we have been told for years are the targets. More broadly, the health sector is we know undergoing the most significant change programme seen for many years and the general consensus seems to be that we are still heading down on the curve before it will, we are told, level off and then start showing improvements from all the change. Friends and family who work in health tell me how stretched they are and how tough it is.

MES works primarily in and for the health sector and so we are particularly tuned into this news. It’s good in the sense that I think we are pretty aware and we ‘know our stuff’, but sometimes…well…it’s just a bit much. I want to cover my ears and go ‘lalalalala’. But that’s not very mature and also not really in keeping with what we do.

Our ambitions as a business are pretty simple. In 2016 we summed up our first decade as ‘10 years of better conversation’. That is what we are trying to do ourselves and what we try to encourage and enable our clients to do with their patients, stakeholders, staff and public at large. Conversation and consultation is an exchange of ideas and views. That leads to better, more informed decisions and shared ownership of those decisions, and then better outcomes. It really is that simple. Sure no decision is going to be popular with everyone, but at least people will respect the process and see that they have been provided opportunity to have their say and that people been heard and influenced final decisions.

Leaders in the health sector talk a good game when it comes to consultation, engagement, discussion, feedback etc. You hear a lot of it at conferences and one day seminars.  In the audience I feel energised – this is great! The penny is dropping, people get it and are going to seize those fine words from the podium and go out to hear what people have got to say, consult like mad, incorporate into decision making and see wonderfully democratic decisions follow. People are asking great questions, making good points and giving every sign that they are ready for this if they are not already doing it.

But as I leave the conference halls and seminar rooms, I see those ambitions evaporating. The copious notes people have taken are going to stay in their free gift bag on a shelf in their office. They’re going to get to work and have 101 new priorities and tasks and this stuff will become a distant memory.

It doesn’t have to be so. We can do this. WE CAN! But we need to walk the walk now. STPs need to start talking to the public properly and putting those conversations at the centre of their activities. NHS Foundation Trusts need to start using their 2 million members to find out what they think to service redesign, what to be weary of, new ideas and identifying pilot groups. CCGs need to start talking to their local communities and panels. Hospitals need to read some of the patient experience feedback coming back and action it. Many of these things are probably not huge costly or ground-breaking. And in fact I would suggest starting small - but start demonstrating that the conversations are having an effect. If people see their involvement as having an impact they will want to do more of it. And will be a good resource for you at a time when resource is scarce.

So my hope for the health sector as we continue through these choppy waters is that as they tackle each item on their ‘to do’ list, leaders and managers stop to think ‘are we having a conversation about this with service users and should we?’ And if not, put that conversation at the centre and use what you are hearing. Don’t be scared – you never know what you might hear or learn.

On a lighter note, I find the following sorts of activities help enormously. Truly:

Read this: The best thing I read in 2016

Watch this:  One of the best things I watched in 2016 (and there are 3 seasons) and the other best thing I watched on TV (and there are also 3 seasons!) 

Listen to this: Not my favourite album of 2016 but very powerful and a bit sad but musically top notch or this which is a great song that I came to late but is a few years old so sorry

Go and see this if it is still showing: A very good film but I also heard this was supposed to be great. And of course this was ace and demands to be seen! Only 2 out of 3 star Amy Adams.

Eat some of this: Particularly tasty chocolate

Watch this: 5 minutes of musical genius (I was there!)

Happy new year! In case you missed it do watch our festive video. It will take you less than two minutes!

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