I have just celebrated my birthday. It wasn’t a special one, but there’s nothing like a birthday to remind you of the unrelenting passage of time. You know you’re getting old when someone asks your age and you have to work it out in your head before answering. What I do know is that I’ve been working in traditional employment for approaching half of my life now and I am so ready for the next chapter, an opportunity to review old habits and challenge ingrained patterns of thinking.
On 1 October 2019 I planted the first seed of my new venture, LH Healthcare Project Management, and have spent the last month watering it in and nurturing the first delicate roots as they have taken hold. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the direction in which I want to grow: what learning and experience I want to hold space for, what habits no longer serve me or my work, how I want my work practices to differ in the future, and what it is that I have to offer that is of value, both from a business perspective and in a broader community sense. It’s perhaps overly ambitious to expect to have reached a definitive conclusion after just one month’s rumination, but clear themes are beginning to emerge around the core values which I would like to permeate the work I do.
Taking a different approach to project management
The ‘adaptive challenges’ faced by the healthcare system don’t have simple, one-size fits all solutions. As we work towards the ambition set out in the NHS Long-Term Plan to have every part of the country covered by an integrated care system by 2021, it’s never been more critical to take a systemic and holistic approach to effecting change within healthcare. It’s key to understand that replicating an initiative which was deemed successful in one place will not necessarily produce the same results elsewhere because organisations and services do not exist in a vacuum, they are influenced by the environment which surrounds them: people, geography, politics, culture. Often, a tunnel-vision approach is used to drive projects forward and it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. The project itself sets out what we want to achieve, but the bigger picture helps us to understand why. When there is a clear understanding of the ‘why’, the ‘what’ can evolve more organically in response to system need.
Amplifying unheard voices
Properly understanding the communities that we serve is a key element of seeing the bigger picture in healthcare. We have never before had such a wealth of data at our fingertips, offering valuable insights, but in order to translate this into something tangible and meaningful, healthcare systems need to be engaged with their local communities and the patient and public voice has to be at the fore-front of co-producing future services. Communication and engagement should not be a box-ticking exercise, or an after-thought part way through service improvement, rather it should be embedded as business as usual so that when a proposal for change is put forward, it has already been shaped and moulded by public and patient voice partners. The healthcare system needs to go the extra mile to listen to the groups of people experiencing health inequalities and barriers to accessing services. It means getting out into the community and building relationships with hard to reach groups, listening and demonstrating understanding of the issues affecting them, and earning trust by delivering healthcare services which show that their voices have been heard and respected.
Prioritising environmental sustainability
It’s almost impossible to escape news about climate change. It’s an issue which has morphed from being only in the consciousness of the most hardcore environmentalists to something that the majority of us now recognise as a concern. Whilst individual changes to consumerism, transport, diet and recycling are arguably important, it’s industry that needs to lead the way in order to have the biggest impact, and that includes the NHS. The NHS Sustainable Development Unit estimates that the health and social care sector accounts for around 6.3% of England’s total carbon emissions, so we’ve got work to do. I believe that environmental sustainability needs to be given parity with financial sustainability because the two issues can no longer be considered mutually exclusive. The intersection of healthcare and climate change is an issue that I intend to explore more thoroughly as part of my Systems Thinking in Practice MSc.
So, as I head into my thirty-fifth year I don’t know what the next twelve months have in store for me, but I am open and enthusiastic about whatever comes my way. I’m feeling positive and passionate about making the above principles central to whatever it is I am doing.