I chaired the final session of a King’s Fund conference on co-production and the six principles of the Five Year Forward View today. Mark Doughty who developed “life changing” arthritis as a young man and is a senior consultant with the King’s Fund reflected on the difference between the kinds of relationships we take for granted in most of our lives – respectful, compassionate – and the relationships we have within ‘the system’, which can feel far removed from that. Initiatives like the late Dr Kate Granger’s “Hello my name is” campaign and the work of Andy Bradley and Frameworks for Change are attempting to bring the compassion back into what should already be compassion-focused fields of work, but too often aren’t.
Delegates suggested that the gap between the relationships we want and the relationships we have if we work in or are users of health and care services can often come down to time. As resources get tighter, time gets more and more pressured. Stress levels rise and even the common courtesy of remembering to introduce ourselves to people who might need intimate or highly stressful care from us can go by the wayside. Bradley’s work has a strong focus on self-awareness and self-compassion as the building block for compassion for others.
It could be argued that the current cuts to health and care service budgets make creating the time and space required for compassion simply impossible. But even within stressed and faltering public services there is an element of choice about what people at each level within the organisation choose to value and allot time to. Neil Churchill’s presentation on Always Events – practices which are identified jointly by people using services, practitioners and managers as being important to compassionate, effective care – showed that the case for compassion is often also the case for achieving outcomes and creating better value for money.
Deciding what is important and what to spend time on is of course about power. Part of the reason that the Hello My Name Is campaign was – shockingly – needed, is that there is a pervasive history of medical professionals believing in status and deference within the NHS. What felt important to ‘patients’ is not automatically felt to be what is most important to the services which they use and ultimately pay for.
We can experience the demands of ‘the system’ as all-powerful and inhuman, but in reality there is no ‘system’, there is only us, and what we choose to value and give time to. At present there are, though, more divisions between the different tribes of our public service world than there are shared beliefs around which we can build our public service sector into a unified movement. Our challenge – which is also the challenge of making co-design and co-production into Always Events in all public services – is to insist upon compassion and connection as always more important than anything else we might achieve, and when the pressure, stress and frustration mounts, to model it even as we fight for change.