Understanding the NHS: A moral and professional responsibility for doctors

The NHS is huge and complex.  The numerous organisations which form its constituent parts continually evolve, divide, grow, and merge.  Processes, authority and responsibilities forever shift with each change of the political winds.  How can any single doctor ever expect to exert a worthwhile degree of influence, even if they wanted to?

In the foreword of the recently published Understanding the New NHS booklet, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, National Medical Director, eloquently communicates both the importance of and the key for doctors to play an active part in challenging and engaging to shape the future.  From an early position where he felt that “management” was someone else’s responsibility, Sir Bruce eventually realised, “If I really cared about how well patients were treated then I had a moral and professional responsibility to understand the system in which I practised.”  He emphasises that “Young, enthusiastic clinicians can add significant insight into our biggest healthcare challenges, but unless you know how to channel this enthusiasm and how the system works, nothing will happen.”  He ends by encouraging doctors “to empower yourself and your colleagues to get to know how the NHS works and really make it your own.”

Where all doctors share this “moral and professional responsibility” senior doctors should bear these words in mind when considering the development of their junior colleagues.  The need to see beyond the technical, clinical expertise and to support development in all aspects of practise is a regular topic of discussion in both our Teach the Teacher and our Medical Leadership and Management Courses.  Understanding who’s who, who does what, where, how, when and why takes both time and deliberate effort.  The booklet mentioned above is an excellent tool and will be of great benefit to many.  The encouraging support of a senior colleague who is skilled at passing on knowledge and enthusiasm is invaluable and has to be a key driver for doctors playing their essential part in shaping the future of the NHS.