Doctors and healthy debate

We may well believe that the state of the nation’s health and the methods of care provision are top priorities.  This would appear to be supported by the many regular news stories in the media and even by the unexpected celebration of the NHS at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.  Yet a recent report from The King’s Fund highlights the fact that the NHS was not a key issue in the 2010 UK election.

At a time when major change and transformation is ongoing, when public satisfaction in the NHS has fallen from 2010’s record high, and when devolution has created four distinct healthcare systems, the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management has posed the question: “How much more divergence can we manage before the free transfer of staff between the countries starts to present issues?”  No surprise then that The King’s Fund’s assessment of opinion polls concludes that the NHS is the most important issue facing Britain today.

Health appeared to play little part in the campaigning and debate preceding the European Elections.  With the previously mentioned issues, is it likely that health will take centre stage ahead of the Scottish Independence Referendum in September, or before next year’s UK General Election?  Is it safe to leave the subject in the hands of the politicians?  As front line providers of the service, at what level should doctors actively participate in the debate: passive bystanders; providers of information; active debaters or pro-active lead influencers?

We regularly receive feedback from the doctors attending our 3 Day Leadership and Management Courses that they do not feel equipped to be able to effectively contribute to the discussion.  Many are surprised by what they discover about the history, structure and finances of the NHS which are explored in detail on the third day.  Gaining clarity of such information is particularly challenging at present because of the aforementioned transformation.  Only doctors who take proactive steps to keep up with the changes are likely to understand and be able to develop well considered opinion.

If the NHS is to be higher on the political agenda over the next year or two, it’s worth asking: How well equipped am I to understand and participate in the debate?