Is There Another Way For The NHS
The NHS had it the Old Labour way, the Conservative way, then the Third Way under New Labour. What now?
Tony Blair, the man often credited with the newly fangled Third Way, once said that what he wanted for the NHS was: quick and convenient treatment, high quality care throughout the NHS, a positive experience for patients, better health as well as health care, and a partnership between the NHS and each individual in achieving better health
New Labour had its chance. In the light of the recent revelations about failing NHS trusts, the public is entitled to ask whether the Third Way has actually worked.
What Has New Labour Done?
They have given out the message that numbers matter and more is better: More hospital appointments; shorter waiting times, choice of hospital and specialist, perhaps more hospital beds, more doctors and nurses, NHS direct, more GP appointments, extended evening clinics, walk in centres etc etc.
All this meant increased funding, and New Labour deserves credit for having putt its money where its mouth was. Indeed New Labour won many plaudits for the huge boost in the NHS budget.
However has the numbers game been played at the expense of quality? Most senior nurses I know will bemoan the fact that whilst university degrees abound in the nursing community, the caring culture is a dying out. Generally speaking nursing, I am often told , is no longer a vocation . For many, it is just a job.
Where Are We Now?
Just as New Labour basically modified conservative policies, now the conservative-led coalition has simply adapted, but not radically changed that thrust towards numbers as opposed to quality.
Ironically, I have never heard the word quality so much reiterated in the NHS as it has been in recent years. Yet it is exactly where we have failed. The obsession with transformation and modernization meant that whilst New labour has been busy repeating the mantra of quality, it has actually taken its eye of that ball.
It is bordering on cynical that whilst New Labour promoted performance measures and the target culture in the NHS, it has failed to meet the targets first announced by Tony Blair, particularly high quality care throughout the NHS, and a positive experience for patients.
The stories shared by some aggrieved families about the poor quality of care in the failing NHS trusts, and I have my own story to tell as a patient, is the natural consequence of obsession with quantity as opposed to quality. Expanding capacity is all very well, but not if it is just about numbers, with no concomitant improvement in quality.
Which Way to Turn?
The current government needs to steer a new path. Importing nurses from abroad may satisfy the numbers criteria. However, with the cultural, knowledge and skill deficit that many such professionals have, quality is bound to suffer. Relying on agency nurses, as opposed to regular nurses with a vocation, costs the NHS dearly, both financially and in terms of quality.
There is only one way to improve the NHS and avoid the fiascos of failing NHS trusts. We need neither Old Labour, Conservative nor the Third Way. We need the old fashioned way; we need care, kindness and compassion in our hospitals.
This means recruiting well-motivated, well supported, professionals, particularly coal-face doctors and nurses who have a calling. This is an expression rarely heard nowadays, a calling, I said! People ought to enter the caring professions because they have a calling, an inner voice that comes from deep within one’s sole, saying “you are made for this profession and you will only be fulfilled if you are caring for those vulnerable fellow human beings, suffering from ill health”.
This of course does not excuse poor pay. Like many of our public servants, nurses are poorly paid. Money has been wasted on doomed IT projects, public private enterprises, unwise purchases and wasteful contracts.
We should be recruiting and training caring compassionate locally grown well remunerated nurses and doctors. All we need is a light touch from management, no more. This would be the first step on the right path, the old fashioned way, not the Third Way.