Stop the name, blame and shame and listen to NHS staff

NHS staff have been forced to implement damaging reforms - then blamed for the damage. A new initiative backed by several Royal Colleges wants to put staff voices back at the heart of NHS policy-making.

Clare Gerada
18 August 2014

There is something profoundly wrong with the NHS today.

The evidence shows that the NHS delivers first class care, free at the point of use at a cost to the individual (tax payer) that other countries envy.

 But there is something profoundly wrong. The constant undermining of our health service by the press, policy makers and politicians leaves in its wake distressed staff feeling beleaguered, bewildered and unloved.

Patients deserve compassionate care, but this requires that staff themselves feel cared for, valued, and contained within a compassionate, empathic working environment.

Instead, anti-NHS forces are creating a toxic and brutalizing atmosphere for the staff that work in the NHS. The name, blame and shame culture is hard wired through a number of major NHS policy initiatives.

Over the last few years NHS staff have born the trauma of extraordinary disruptive change, brought about by the misplaced ideological belief that a market in health care, and the need for constant reorganization to achieve it, will produce a safer, better, cheaper system.

Change leads to distress. NHS staff are no exception. Collectively we experience increased rates of mental illness, early retirement, complaints, and referrals to the regulators. All symptoms of a system in trouble.

Yet come rain or shine, NHS staff, clinicians and managers have kept the show on the road – caring for patients, tending to the sick and vulnerable, managing the dwindling budget within a culture of criticism.

We have been seen as dispensable automatons blamed for and then instructed to make good defects in the system. Work harder, we are told. Work with more compassion. More efficiently.

Staff needs have been largely ignored. Few of the 80 or so recommendations made in recent reports on staff wellbeing have been implemented.

Not surprising, then, that the energy and goodwill needed to care compassionately for patients is sometimes lacking.

The NHS constitution tells us that “The NHS belongs to the people”.

It also pledges to provide a positive working environment for staff, and to promote supportive, open cultures that help staff do their job to the best of their ability.

There is now an urgent need to hold the Government to account for these worthy statements. 

It is time for the voices of the one million or so NHS staff to be heard. 

To this end, I am chairing a series of free listening events. The first will be held in London 20th September 2014 at the Royal National Hotel, Bloomsbury, with further events planned across the country for later this year and early 2015.

The initiative is supported by the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the Royal Society for Public Health, as well as the Institute of Group Analysis and the Institute of Healthcare Management.

Each event will reflect on the issues facing the NHS workforce, with guest speakers and analysts facilitating group discussions. A team of managers and clinicians will collate the findings, which will then be shared with national policy makers and political leaders, to help ensure that the NHS upholds the commitments of its constitution. 

The events will be free to attend, and all comments and feedback collected at the events will be anonymised.

Places will be limited. Anyone wanting to attend will need to register here.

We need to create a momentum for change to reverse the destructive forces undermining the NHS - for the sake of patients, staff, and the NHS itself.

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