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A tale of two chants (or how not to approach public policy)

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LGC’s essential daily commentary 

The practice of chanting is usually the reserve of Buddhist monks and the odd suburban yoga class with big spiritual ambitions.

Not so this week. Delegates at the Labour conference frequently broke into spontaneous chants of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ in the main hall; earlier today the great leader was prevented from beginning his speech for a number of minutes as his name echoed around the Brighton conference hall.

Elsewhere, Health Service Journal revealed this week that NHS chief executives from organisations with poor emergency care performance were exhorted to chant ‘we can do this’ by a senior NHS England official. The call came at the end of a meeting to discuss performance issues, called at the last minute a week after two hospital chief executives had been sacked for poor A&E performance.

While the former was a spontaneous expression of hope, faith and jubilation genuinely felt, the latter looks like an act of desperation and despair with participants apparently joining in only reluctantly out of fear for their jobs. Neither approach is a sound basis on which to make public policy.

As LGC has reported today, senior Labour councillors feel they have a fight on their hands to make party members understand the challenges they face. The conference floor comments of Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett give a good idea of what they’re up against. “It is not good enough for Labour councillors to hide behind talk of Tory budgets,” he told delegates. “It is not good enough for them to talk of hard decisions – that has no place in a socialist party.”

Ahem. It’s hard to know where to start with such a naïve proclamation. Rather than bask in the glow of adulation, if Mr Corbyn is serious about governing, perhaps he would do better to begin managing expectations among his chanting fans.

It is hard to imagine a room full of council chief executives being corralled into some group chanting by a senior official, however dire their organisation’s performance. That their NHS counterparts apparently felt unable to defy orders from on high, however ridiculous, is a neat illustration of the hierarchical culture of the NHS.

Readers of the HSJ story responded by using the article’s comments section to question the emotional intelligence and leadership skills of the official who orchestrated the chant. The man in question, Paul Watson, regional director for the Midlands and East, responded by reiterating that “this can be done”. The ‘this’ presumably being turning around A&E performance.

He continued: “If that seems cheesy or patronising then so be it but it does have the merit of being true.”

Mr Watson neglected to provide evidence for this assertion, other than the implicit suggestion that because other hospitals in other parts of the country with their unique populations, geographies, financial circumstances, workforces and patterns of out of hospital and social care provision are able to then this group of challenged organisations must be capable too.

The blind faith of NHS leaders in their ability to will performance improvements was also in evidence in the targets for reductions in delayed transfers of care that councils were set in July. Some authorities were tasked with making reductions of more than 50% by the deadline of September.

This week 12 councils in the West Midlands informed NHS England they will not be meeting what they described as “unachievable” targets and have instead set their own revised trajectories which they regard as more realistic. However, this leaves them facing the prospect of together losing out on up to £150m of better care fund cash. They have called on health secretary Jeremy Hunt to intervene and prevent NHS England from taking such action.

Only time will tell if common sense prevails. In the meantime LGC is off for a lie down in a darkened room.



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Readers' comments (1)

  • Seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty makes a HUGE difference to the way in which a challenge or opportunity is addressed :)

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