Encouraging the Heart – NHS 70 Years On

The Appointed Day – 5th July 1948 was the day that the NHS came into existence.  What an incredible leap of faith by the then labour government and parliament who supported the decision to make healthcare a right for all irrespective of the means to pay.  Leadership often starts with an inspired vision[1] but not all leaders are able to inspire enough people or engage them in creating a shared vision.  Nye Bevan had to overcome opposition not only in his own party but the conservative opposition and most notoriously that of the BMA whose membership vociferously spoke against the establishment of the NHS only weeks before its inception.  However he won them over and we now have a service that provides for all of us 24/7 365 days a year and is regarded as one of the best healthcare systems in the world.

I had the opportunity to experience our NHS on it’s birthday as an out-patient for bowel screening (I can almost hear the cries of “Too much information”), however don’t worry I won’t be sharing any intimate details beyond that statement.  It did give me pause to reflect on what Leadership means in today’s NHS however.  Firstly the screening was part of the new preventative approach to bowel cancer and as a woman I also have the opportunity to be screened for cervical cancer and for breast cancer – all of which is provided with no payment at the point of delivery.

What that says to me as a patient is that I live in a system that cares for me – I am a valued member of our society.  When I attended the clinic I noticed how friendly and interested everyone was in me and how I was feeling.  The pre-screening interview enabled me to talk about any anxieties about the procedure and gave me full knowledge of the risks I took in providing my consent.  What the nurse acknowledged was the somewhat lack of style and panache in the shorts I was required to wear for the procedure.  The comfort being was that all patients are required to wear them!

Once in the treatment room I was introduced to everyone with their first names and they gently talked me through each stage of the procedure.  What I really liked was that there was a nurse sat next to me, monitoring my blood pressure but just there alongside me to give me reassurance and explain anything that was giving me discomfort or concern.  Whilst the procedure itself is not exactly pleasant the approach was of utmost care from the way I was spoken to and treated.  This brings to mind another of the Kouzes & Posner leadership attributes – Encourage the Heart.  Leadership in this context is doing the small things – saying thank you, asking how you are, taking time out to talk to someone, giving someone a helping hand.  It isn’t the domain of grand gestures but of doing the little things every day that matter to people and to help them feel valued.

This is the unsung leadership in the NHS, all those wonderful people who show that leadership in small ways for the millions of us every day. I for one will fight tooth and nail for it to be there in another 70 years.

Dedicated to Agnes the wonderful lady I met on 5 July 2018

[1] Kouzes J & Posner B The Leadership Challenge 1990 Wiley