By Rachel Pugh
The NHS should be the place where individual members work to support each other, as healthcare teams did in dealing with the aftermath of the Manchester bombing in 2017 in which 22 people died and hundreds were injured at a rock concert.
This message was at the heart of the speech by Health Secretary Matt Hancock at the RCP’s Manchester conference in which he called for more compassion and care to be shown in the NHS—not just for patients, but to the workforce as a whole.
Referring to the ‘dark day’ for Manchester and the nation, in which he said medical teams showed resilience, compassion and went beyond the call of duty, Matt Hancock thanked the ‘NHS heroes’ some of whom were in sitting in the conference hall, and said: “I think the NHS as a whole should be a place where we can stand strong together - like in a family.”
He confessed that the NHS had not always ‘been there’ sufficiently to support individual members of staff to realise their potential. He said: “Too often we have chosen confrontation over collaboration when collaboration was the way to settle our differences.” This has resulted in 1 in 11 NHS staff members (100,000) leaving the service every year, a trend which he said needed to be reversed.
Whilst accepting that scarce resources, staffing problems and lack of technology present major challenges to the physicians in the audience, the Health Secretary said that fixing these practical aspects was not a complete answer. The prime reason for the haemorrhage of staff is that not enough has been done to make them feel valued.
Dame Dido Harding is attempting to build excitement, inclusion and compassion into the NHS’s first People’s Plan, on which she is currently working.
But Matt Hancock was adamant that the NHS needs to reflect 21st century UK society, and tackling inequality. Seventy-seven per cent of its 1.3 million staff are women, which makes it one of the biggest employers of women in the world, but it also has a 23 per cent gender pay gap. Although women make up 40 percent of hospital doctors, only a third are consultants. A similar picture inequality applies to people from the BME communities, who make up 40 percent of the UK’s hospital doctors but represent only 6 percent at board level. Disabled people fare even worse.
In calling for greater transparency of pay, promotion and reward, the Heath Secretary identified 3 priority areas:
- More support and mentoring to help women into leadership roles, including 500 onto boards.
- Flexible working for greater control over family and working life.
- A compassionate culture.
He expressed disgust by stories he had seen on the #NHSMeToo campaign of bullying and of staff forced to work when they were ill, saying: “I believe the NHS should embody the best that we have to offer in this country and I want each one of us to care for every member of the NHS family. More than everything we need to create a compassionate culture in which work is something we look forward to.”