It’s a Wonderful Life

Every year at Christmas, the beautiful, 100 year old Hyde Park Picture House shows Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a Christmas staple that many of us will watch on TV too. The film stars James Stewart  as George Bailey , a man who sacrifices his own needs in order to help others and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve  brings about the intervention of his Guardian Angel, Clarence. Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would be had he never been born. Its life affirming conclusion where the townspeople rally around George to keep him from prison is so powerful it should be available on prescription.

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It would be easy for people in the NHS to feel like George in 2014. In bleaker moments, we can point to a bleak environment. There has been a constant stream of negative press – it is now open season on what the Commonwealth Fund decided was the best healthcare system in the world. So much so, that the real issues can get crowded out. Recent press activity now includes saying the opposite of what is true – this week’s example 4 out of 5 new nurses are from overseas [wrong! Facts here…]. Industrial dispute puts people who work in the NHS against the people who pay for it. We are facing the biggest activity surge and the biggest pressure on services in my career, with staff working tirelessly to deliver great care being kicked about like a political football. On some days, my social media feed often looks less like a conversation and more like a mob, with attacks on “NHS managers”, unpleasant trolling, doctored pictures that show me as Hitler and people behaving in pretty despicable ways to each other. Most NHS leaders and the people who work in the service are pretty resilient. But there have been moments when many of us will have wondered what it was all for….

Fortunately, the NHS’ Guardian Angel came to the NHS Confederation/NHS Employers last week to remind us how the NHS touches all of our lives. The occasion was #AdsParty . It was one of those days – the special days that touch us deeply and we never forget.

Adam Bojelian is a 14 year old poet, Brit Award winner and long term patient at Leeds teaching Hospitals Trust. He communicates his wisdom and wit through blinking. The party was a tweetmeet and celebration of Adam, inspired by Kirtie Stott and Vanessa Garrity from New Healthcare Voices and put together by the fantastic team at NHS Employers of Danni, Sam, Johnno and Andrew. The idea was simple, get Adam and his family together with all of the people he inspires through social media, throw in a bit of food and celebrate Christmas. The execution of the idea showed me why we must never take for granted that the NHS is made of people – give them the headroom and they will always exceed what you expect.

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In dark moments, I will always be able to conjure up the scene, with my own version of the guardian angel Clarence whispering in my ear about….

A set of elves doling out mulled apple juice as they greet us, the Horizons team setting the tone and supported by Ronnie the Rhino – reminding us of the great work the Leeds Rugby Foundation does in healthcare and how communities matter, place matters.

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The ward and nursing team supporting Adam talking about how tough things are and also how much they love what they do. They have a renewed sense of connection between them and the Trust Board under Julian Hartley’s leadership. I was reminded of Dean Royles’ work and the piece on HSJ about the Trust’s focus on the personal, fuelled by technology.

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New leaders emerging in the shape of New HC Voices, with Kirstie and Vanessa’s amazing group augmented by award winners and front-line heroes Sarah Searz, Joan Laplanas, Thomas Shahanan, John Walsh – “real people” doing “real” jobs epitomising a value based approach and wanting to change the world.

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Kate Granger, taking time out from being a new consultant to come and meet Adam. She has already changed the world through #Hellomynameis, demonstrating the power of an idea and a personal story that connect us all.

Films like these and these from Twitter pals who could not be there demonstrating the impact that Adam has had on them, from Chief Executives to graduate trainees, international improvement icons to nurses to OTs – and everyone in between.  Our very own Paul Deemer, was inspired to verse and NHS Employers’ staff duly obliged with their rendition of “Would You Adam and Eve It”

While the virtual log fire flickered, Kay Mellor the actress, director and author recited Christmas Gibbons and we all laughed at the reality that it isn’t the reindeer but the gibbons that do the deliveries at Christmas.

The Quarry House Choir from the Department of Health, NHS England and DWP singing “Walking in the Air”, one of Adam’s favourites. The assembled crowd look on, connected in the moment.

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And above all, the inspiration for the whole thing – Adam and his parents, Paul and Zoe and their family and friends. The team starts here in the service. The patient who always has assets to share. The parents who have expertise. The families who support each and every day.

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So next time things get bleak and things get tough, I will remind myself that we have a good set of strategies in the NHS with 5 Year Forward View and its ilk. We have a commitment to more resources. And above all, we have the people who can always exceed your expectations. Forget the HSJ100, Debrett’s and Who’s Who. The NHS is made of people – just like me and you and Adam.

It’s a wonderful life. Happy Christmas!

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2 thoughts on “It’s a Wonderful Life

  1. Simply wonderful. Let this be shared far and wide, a beautiful expression of the impact of compassion, warmth and a shared journey whilst experiencing mental health services.

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