I walked down the familiar street, past the terraced houses towards a black front door. Armed police patrolled the area and onlookers gawped from their huddle behind a black iron railing. The familiar number 10 swung inward and away from me as I approached. I was greeted and ushered past Larry the cat – rescued from very different streets – and into the waiting room. I was back in Number 10 Downing Street for the second time in a week. As Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, along with a group of others, I was here to discuss the mechanics of healthcare with policy advisors. As I walked up the stairs, past the portraits of every Prime Minister, I took in the surroundings of this world famous place.
Later, I sat thinking and promised myself two things…..
Firstly, that I will never take for granted the privilege of events like this. Larry was happy sleeping away his time but I know access to people with real power is a thing to be used well and for the benefit of everyone. In my new role this is as important as ever.
Secondly, that my entry through this front door and the route into these meetings are for one purpose only. To ensure that the NHS can succeed and keep delivering care to people behind different doors, on different streets – the streets of your village, town, city or hamlet. The NHS needs to make changes at pace to keep up with societal change, demography, financial challenges and to retain trust around quality of care. How easy it would become to engage in an intellectual debate about structures, incentives, legal instruments, markets and economics and forget the purpose of the conversation – to ensure we deliver the best possible care.
Two weeks from leaving my former role as Chief Executive of Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, the memories of the patients I have seen, the homes I have visited is fresh. From proud dads of newborn babes to exhausted carers of dying people – birth to death, head to toe, mental and physical health of everyone, whether prisoners, the homeless, shelf stackers or millionaires. It doesn’t take much for me to recall the palpable joy or sadness, frustration or relief.
To ensure that it stays that way, I have made a pledge for NHS Change Day. My new job is a representative one that has the NHS at its heart. That requires ongoing visits to organisations across the country. But I will also repeat what I did as a front line Chief Executive and go “back to the floor” once a month with staff and patients at the front line of the NHS. I have always said if you want to understand something you should try to see for yourself.
Getting out of my middle class bubble and into the real lives of staff and patients to see the impact we have is the most powerful incentive for success I know….and if you have the opportunity to be trusted to go behind the closed doors of other people’s lives, take it. You will be humbled, surprised, shocked and amazed by what you find the NHS achieves every day as well as seeing where things truly need to change.
Change day is on 3 March. You can pledge here.