Dear NHS

Dear NHS,

My father is home. After six weeks in hospital, it’s been a tough ride for everyone, but such are the perils of growing older. And now i need to say ‘thank you’.

Dear NHS

Falling into the arms of a healthcare system is a disconcerting experience. Almost the first thing that happens is that you lose control: aspects of your identity (clothing, control of mealtimes, ability to watch TV on demand) are lost, your time becomes some else’s, and your destiny is taken out of your hands.

For many people, it’s a shift from the balanced power of a known social system, into a patriarchal relationship with disconnected doctors and a system that seems to run on it’s own, internally validated, time.

The NHS, in an emergency, is almost in tension with itself: a balance between the monumental and the personal. The monumental allows it to achieve effect, at scale, and the personal is what stops you falling through the cracks.

There is a cultural grammar to hospitals, one which is known to insiders, but desperately disconcerting to those outside. The uniforms, the noises, the rules, all open to interpretation and concern. I found myself anxiously wondering if it was ok for me to put a chair next to the bed. I didn’t feel that type of anxiety in the Pentagon, which although alien as an environment, at least had a grammar that i could understand.

Our relationship with healthcare is almost pathetically subservient: for all our talk of ‘health provision’ and ‘clients’, in an emergency it feels like a plea for help.

Over the last six weeks, i’ve had a few people lead with #HelloMyNameIs, but far fewer than i expected. At times, i felt we fell around the edges of the system. Some people were desperately kind, and some desperately disconnected. At times the system excelled, and at times fell victim to it’s own radical complexity. The simplicity of kindness subsumed by system.

As Social Leaders, we seek to say ‘thank you’, and that’s what i wanted to say with this letter. Not ‘thank you’ to a system, but ‘thank you’ to two people who sit within it.

The Bognor War Memorial Hospital is about as far from the bustle of central government bureaucracy as you can imagine, but it’s here that i want to leave two ‘thank you’s to people on the Leslie Smith ward.

Fiona Cordell, the senior Occupational Therapist, who provided outstanding support to my family, thank you.

And Mo Bojang, a student nurse, at the start of his career, who acted with such kindness to us all.

If you work in the NHS, if you have a position of authority, please take the time to say thank you to these two people, because, for me, they represent what the NHS is all about. Not just the science of treatment, or the complexity of system, but the compassion of medicine.

Thank you. The NHS may not be perfect, but it’s through the kind actions of every individual within a system that it will adapt, and that it will thrive.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Community, Culture and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Dear NHS

  1. karen Ver says:

    Julian, your reflections on your experiences with the NHS for your dad’s care touched me very much. Similarly, my mother in law spent 4.5 months in Kingston Acute Stroke unit. While there were some chaotic and less joined up periods during her time the vast majority of people who were caring for her during her stay were amazing to help her preserve her dignity at all times and provide compassion and empathy at the most vulnerable time for her and us.

  2. Rachael Etebar says:

    Dear Julian.

    An interesting blog thanks. The culture of the hospital you describe seems very familiar from the classic paper by Isabel Menzies called: ‘The Functions of Social Systems as a Defence Against Anxiety: A Report on a Study of the Nursing Service of a General Hospital’ (1959). The paper can be downloaded from Sage Publishing:

  3. MetLife says:

    Hi Julian,
    My experience with the US healthcare system is very similar. Once you enter the doors you become a cog in a machine that at times doesn’t always work effectively. The bright spots are when you meet someone who brings a smile and a piece of humanity to their job and their patients.

    • julianstodd says:

      It’s that human engagement that transforms the experience: in the Social Age, we engage in relationships, more than transactions. Hope you’re well, Julian

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