This blog post is dedicated in particular to Julie Bailey, Deb Hazeldine, James Titcombe, Liza Brady and Dr David Drew - among so many other whistleblowers. It takes tremendous courage to speak out and "rock the boat" - courage perhaps more than I possess. These people have suffered unbearably but want - only the best. We need to hear from them.
It's been on my mind to write about the last year's public opinion of the NHS for some time. The important whistleblower revelations of Mid-Staffs, Morcombe Bay and others have broken the rose-coloured fallacy that the "NHS is perfect because it gives free care to people who need it". That is true and it is wonderful. But the NHS is made up of imperfect human beings from the porters and domestics who enable hospitals to run, to Chief Executive Officers who lay down vision.
As is common in human behaviour, we tend to hold opinions of extremes (I hold up my hands and admit I personify this!). If we do not love something passionately, we hate it with a vengance - particularly if wronged by it.
It particularly troubled me to see the horrendous backlash against key whistleblowers such as Julie Bailey and Deb Hazeldine, James Titcombe and Liza Brady. For those unfamiliar, these two ladies lost their beloved parents in the most appalling failures of care and were not giveNOT just treat "the patient". That "PERSON" comes as part of a family - and care given to them (whether good, bad, excellent or dreadful) will impact upon the closest people to them. A caveat: I can somewhat understand why a lot of the backlash comes from the people of Stafford who face losing their hospital. They are looking for a scapegoat, and inevitably (I suppose - however unacceptable) will look to the whistleblowers.
n the answers and reassurances they deserved - and so began to campaign. The NHS and health professionals owe them a debt! They are a reminder that we do
But I want to ask - does anyone mildly rationale think these two ladies - Ms Bailey and Ms Hazeldine EVER considered "becoming campaigners" or "whistleblowers" five to ten years ago?! We must consider why fate led them to this.
1. A Step Back and Pause for Thought:
Over this past year I have had a lot of time to think, read and consider the NHS as something incredibly important to me. The availability of the Mid-Staffordshire Inquiry has enabled in depth reading and consideration of the mistakes and errors and lapses in communication. In particular I wanted to read the accounts of families like Julie Bailey and Deb Hazeldine to learn and ensure that in my experience - this would NEVER happen again in my human power or sphere of capability wherever I work. I was seized by a comment Deb Hazeldine made in her testimony to the Inquiry that I think it incredibly telling - she made it early in the complaint (point 25);
"If Martin Yeates had been up front and honest in the first place, I would have walked away. I just wanted justice. If he had said; "Hands up, it's bad" but could demonstrate in a robust way that it wouldn't happen again - I would have walked away secure in the knowledge that vulnerable people were not at risk".
I would hesitate a guess that virtually all families who have suffered unjustly or through human error would be actually satisfied with a swift, sincere apology and evidence of real lessons learned and proof that identical mistakes would not be made - would be enough. I wonder if we can allow for the fact that whistleblowers have happened - because one of the human errors of the human NHS is that we collectively haven't been good at admitting error and learning from mistakes?
When I was at school (a private Christian religious school run by my parent's church) we used to have reports on our progress - both academic, but being religious, also character. One consistent character point I scored very badly on was called; "Responds Well to Correction". I can only assume at heart at that point I was an intensely proud and/or stubborn character as I consistently would score; "Needs Improvement".
This is an error I have somehow (I am not sure how) been keen throughout my life to remove and hope will continue to do so.
2. Applaud the Good but Admit the Bad - and Learn and Improve from It!
There was a report in the Independent today that somewhat ignited the difference of opinion about the NHS. Sir Mike Richards - the Chief Inspector of the NHS - wrote and commented favourably about the NHS. He said;
“Compassion in the NHS is alive and well.” And then with extra emphasis: “We’ve also seen some really excellent care.”
This surely is good news? But on Twitter again opinion was divided. Those desperate to see the tide of public opinion turn on the NHS highlighted the story and applauded it. The whistleblowers still seeking "something more" were justifiably concerned - all is still NOT well in the NHS and there is a great distance still to go. The Sir Mike article states it itself;
"It is what I hoped I would see,” he adds. “But seeing is believing.”
There is a reason that I love reading the Birmingham Children's Hospital Foundation Trust Parent and Carer Feedback page on their website that collates feedback from the instant "Feedback Application" (Award winning!). It demonstrates so clearly that feedback and performance change. Some days the NHS gets it very right. Some days the NHS gets it very wrong. We are human. We change! But as long as we are transparent, live, love and learn - surely there is hope?
I for one - as a proud current NHS healthcare professional - promise and pledge here and now to devote the rest of my working life (up to 70 now I believe!?) to ensuring the patients and families under my care NEVER have any cause to have to raise concerns about the standards of my care.
PEOPLE matter. End of. FAMILIES matter. End of. And it is our (my) everlasting privilidge to be able to care for some of these vulnerable people when they need it most. That expression of trust must not be ever let down.