Publishing mission statements that you know you simply can’t deliver doesn’t get us anywhere. Attitudes matter, and attitudes have to be lived.
Isn’t English an extraordinary language?
Take the simple word ‘waffle’ for instance. Depending on context, waffle can mean a number of entirely different things. At breakfast time, it might refer to an entirely delicious batter-baked dish, fresh, hot and cooked between two distinctly patterned waffle-iron plates. Of course, while the fresh strawberries loaded on top will be fine, as a doctor I am sure I should advise you against smothering it with thick dollops of cream – not that I will listen to my own advice. As if….
In the entirely different context of health and social care, ‘waffle’ is a very precise term used to describe all too many mission statements. The dictionary lists a number of excellent synonyms for this form of waffle, including prattle, babble, gibber, gabble, mutter, mumble, drivel, blather, rabbit, and witter. While those last three would make the perfect name for many a firm of lawyers, the whole extended selection perfectly describes the content of so many corporate slogans and mission statements.
Sadly, I am absolutely certain that those who write fine words about ’empowering’ and ‘patient centredness’ really do mean them. I am also very well aware that a majority of health and social care staff strive to focus on the needs of the people that they are there to support.
But all too many patients will tell you that their overall experience is of an organisation that feels like it is primarily focused on the needs of the organisation – rather than the needs of the patients.
Attitudes and aspirations such as kindness should be core to everyone’s work – not just with patients and service-users, but to colleagues and those that we work with.
Some years ago, the late Sir Donald Irvine wrote about the genuine focus of the Mayo Clinic in the US on patient experience. He said: “A nice non-clinical example is the patient’s main car park, which staff and consultants are not allowed to use, which is the nearest to the hospital entrance! The contrast with even the best NHS hospitals, with their competing values and priorities imposed on them from on high, is quite stark.”
I particularly like the focus on the Mayo Clinic’s website on ‘Seamless Care’, with the promise that “every aspect of your care is coordinated, and teams of experts work together to provide exactly the care you need. What might take months elsewhere can often be done in days here.”
Compare that with the number of different appointments that even a relatively simple investigation may involve in much of the NHS. I know, I believe, I accept absolutely, that times in the NHS are currently incredibly tough. But publishing mission statements that you know you simply can’t deliver doesn’t get us anywhere. Attitudes matter, and attitudes have to be lived.
By way of contrast, I have been really struck by the way that Kaleidoscope says what it means and means what it says. At the core of its work is the importance of kindness. If that sounds twee and Polyanna-ish to you – something closer to Californian psychobabble than the real world – then I do hope that you aren’t currently working in health and care. Attitudes and aspirations such as kindness should be core to everyone’s work – not just with patients and service-users, but to colleagues and those that we work with.
Kaleidoscope believes in attributes such as kindness. It believes in inspiring, in bringing people together, in having the difficult conversations. I feel genuinely honoured to be accepted into their team as a senior adviser. I expect I will learn a lot. I do hope so.
And I hope there will only be the one type of waffle in my life. With extra cream…..