NHS – get some perspective

You know your country’s in trouble the minute the plane carrying Orla Guerin touches down. Guerin is the excellent BBC reporter who seems to turn up anywhere in the world that’s suffering from some catastrophe or other. She and fellow Hibernian, Fergal Keane have both made a living out of describing human misery in their sonorous tones. What was it about their childhoods that made them want to describe the human wretchedness brought on by earthquakes, wars, famine, and contagion? In her flat, unemotional Irish accent and with slightly haunting eyes, Guerin pulls no punches in her reports. She really does tell viewers how it is. No surprise then, that her latest misery tour turned up in Venezuela. That sad, benighted country that has so shamefully squandered their oil money, is now in real trouble. The nation’s infrastructure is crippled, there are no jobs, there’s hyperinflation and most alarmingly, people are starving. Part of former president Chavez’s promise was free healthcare for all. To see how that’s panned out, have a look, if you can bear it, at Orla Guerin’s report.

It would be too flippant to suggest that we all curb our carping about the shortcomings in our own health system because, compared to the people in Venezuela, Yemen and countless African countries, we don’t really know just how lucky we are. It’s like a parent trying to persuade a reluctant child to eat what’s on their plate because “there are starving children all over the world who’d be glad of that spinach….” But, there’s no harm either, in reminding ourselves of what really matters – adding perspective if you like – by comparing our situation with the plights of others.

Hancock needs to walk the walk

So, this week, while Venezuelan doctors do what little they can in what remains of their crumbling hospitals, Matt Hancock has been putting a bit of stick about on the subjects of NHS managers and whistle-blowers. Rejecting five out of seven of Tom Kark QC’s recommendations to improve the incredibly unpopular fit and proper person test, as well delaying making a decision on whether to introduce a specific regulator for NHS managers, Hancock is at risk of spouting hot air. He certainly can talk the talk – Hancock has made no secret of his commitment to transforming leadership culture within the NHS – but as the IHM quite rightly asserts, it’s now time for him to walk the walk, and show us he’s got the gumption and grit to deal with these issues head on.

It’s not that matters of leadership and culture aren’t seriously important. They really can be about life and death – although, compared to the sight of empty medicine cabinets in Venezuela’s hospitals, it’s on a somewhat different scale.

Talking of comparing health systems – and to end on a slightly lighter note, have a listen to Emma Jane Kirby’s take on France vs UK approaches to healthcare. It’s a bit old now but in the light of the current conversations with our European neighbours, after listening to her describing our cultural differences so beautifully, you have to wonder how on Earth we’ve managed to get along quite as well as we have for the past forty years.