Chris Lancelot: Nothing in the NHS has me turning cartwheels

The sight of a verger performing cartwheels down the aisle of Westminster Abbey after the royal wedding is one that will stay with me for a long time.

The GP Record, by Fran Orford
The GP Record, by Fran Orford

After much planning and preparation the ceremony itself had gone off perfectly. No wonder Ben Sheward was pleased, relieved and thankful. His actions were a joyous celebration of a job well done.

How often do we feel like that in the NHS? Not often. Going to work is hardly a bundle of laughs. In some circumstances this is inevitable: telling a patient that they have cancer is not a happy activity. But if the NHS really is the envy of the world, shouldn't we constantly be feeling and expressing it, ecstatically happy to be involved? Well we should. And the reasons why we aren't bear looking into. Some joy and camaraderie does exists - usually among healthcare colleagues and within individual units.

But outside this a dour, sad atmosphere prevails - encapsulated in those managerial missives saying that 'improvement year-on-year is expected'. In other words, no-one is ever good enough. Nobody congratulates us for doing well - more is always expected. A QOF target, once hit, will be made redundant, to be replaced by another, more difficult one.

So instead of a joyous celebration that we are the best - that we work in a world-class organisation that lights the place up with competence and joy - we have grim appraisals and traffic-light scorecards. It's like the school report 'could do better' - always. Let me ask - when did an NHS manager last truly praise you? I thought not. Yet it is well established from animal experiments that incentives work better than punishment.

One of the surprising things about adversity is its bonding effect. Dreadful though the Second World War was, those who lived through it consistently refer to it as a time of intense living, of closeness and of feeling truly alive. Do we have the same feelings about healthcare? Is the NHS about warm, human camaraderie while facing the common enemy of illness? Many colleagues want only to get to early retirement.

So I view Ben Sheward's somersaults with a smile, and a shared sense of joy. I wish I could say the same for the NHS.

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