Tuesday, 23 August 2011

New Term, new habits

Forget the weather, there are two ways that I am reminded that Autumn is on the way. Firstly, the football season starts, and watching Manchester United’s first home match at Old Trafford brought back the familiar thrill and anticipation of many injury-time goals to come. Secondly, not so exciting – the shoe shops are full of Mums buying school shoes for their children.

Remembering that ‘new school year feeling’ – new shoes, a blazer three sizes too big and lots of pristine pens and exercise books, as always, I turn my thoughts to health. The NHS is facing it’s most challenging term of all and maybe now is the time to suggest some new habits that all of us could adopt to improve patient care and enhance the efficiency of the services we provide. This list of ‘new term resolutions’ is applicable to us all involved in the future of our state funded health system – Health administrators, nurses, doctors, therapists, commissioners, community workers – all 1.5 million of you (or however many are currently employed in the NHS)

Be nice:
Yep – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Rude emails, bad behaviour in meetings, a curt tone with confused patients really should have no part in the business of healthcare. Of course, we are all human, and have the odd off-day, and I can hold my hands up and admit that I have given colleagues short shrift before, but I do try not to make a habit of it.

Respect each other’s profession:
We all have a part to play in making the NHS great, all of us. A patient needs a pharmacist just as much as he needs a doctor, care worker or even hospital chef! And whatever you do – don’t criticise a colleague in front of a patient.

Remember that not everyone knows what you know:
I have blogged before about assumptions in healthcare, and assuming knowledge or understanding is one of the biggest dangers for integrated care. If a patient or colleague appears confused, take the time to bring them up to speed. But also remember that they might, and in fact do, know plenty that you don’t know!

Give up jargon:
One of the most annoying aspects of the NHS is the jargon they use. A few years ago the Daily Telegraph  printed some examples of confusing language used for patients – including one letter to a patient signed by ‘your intestinal failure coordinator’ and another being told that their case was ‘embedded within an indication of needs matrix’ Aaargh! .The NHS Information site lists in excess of 500 acronyms currently used including HAZ (Health Action Zone) and WIRG (Workforce Information Review Group) When I first started running projects in the NHS, I was constantly online trying to decipher what people were actually saying to me!

Make your meetings count:
Strong meeting management, decent preparation beforehand, good timekeeping and clear goal setting could transform the approach to many administrative and clinical issues.

Take pride in your environment:
One particular bugbear of mine is scrappy notices, often in health centres, stuck up in public areas, with tape – crooked, out of date or irrelevant. Regular readers will remember my pain at the tissue left on the floor of a busy ward, ignored by all comers. Own it – own your workplace and look after it.

Think ‘integrated’:
The single most important habit to adopt. I am delighted that the NHS Future Forum has added a fourth workstream – focussing on integration. I’m less happy that the co-chairs are the Chief Executive of a Borough Council and a Commissioning GP. What about those big buildings with beds and patients in them – a key part of the integrated pathway? Hopefully there will be plenty of hospital professionals included in the working group. The key to cost savings, improved outcomes and efficient patient care is to consider the entire patient journey. Yes, I know I am becoming a bore on this - but if you have to adopt just one good habit for this new term, this really should be our top priority.

As Aristotle said, ‘Quality is not an act – it is a habit’

So, before the harvest is safely gathered in and the chestnut trees begin to drop their conkers, let’s keep the good habits we already have and start the autumn term with some new ones too.


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