Partha Kar

How do you get health professionals to do more? Not by threatening them

You have to wonder what’s the path most will choose. When faced with sticky situations, if given a choice, will they take the easier one?

For the average person, beyond their personal zeal to help humanity, there also exists a family, a life and a desire to have a hassle free existence.

It’s sometimes difficult to have that conversation in the vortex of leadership cults, especially within the NHS, who all seem to have an opinion about how others should lead their lives. There also seems to be that accusatory stance that if you haven’t stayed late, burned yourself that extra bit then your commitment to your vocation isn’t strong enough.

Flippant comments about women having to leave early to pick their kids up, are just that. The alternative is for kids to be left standing outside school ground wondering where their parents are.

It’s odd to see that attitude in NHS consciousness these days, driven by many who are in a position where either they don’t have a family or their family have left. Look at Twitter, it’s full of sanctimonious comments about the greater good – and it gets nauseating after a bit.

I get paid well; I put in the hard yards at work, and do my job to the best of my ability. But no kid of mine will be left crying outside school. Ever. And if that makes anyone think I am not committed to this mystical role called a vocation, so be it. A vocation doesn’t pay your mortgage, school fees or more importantly, offer anything extra when you turn around to see your kids grown up and ready to leave home. The time spent on vocational work is sadly time lost being a parent.

The same situation plays its part within the confines of the darkening mood of the NHS. As central grip tightens, the fear factor is there to be seen. Anything mentioned, even in passing, even constructive criticism, is seen as dissent.

What lessons do we have for anyone trying to raise questions? If you look at the fate of whistleblowers, are you going to voice concerns and go against the establishment? Or, are you going to take the easy option, keep your head down, do your job, go home. Why take the hassle?

It’s no different for leadership positions either. Look at any report, it says the same thing – there aren’t many good ones around.

There are two obvious reasons for this: First, the attitude of the NHS towards it, continually seeing it as an extra rather than an important role; and, secondly, the inability to define the why. It’s much more convenient to take the easy route – why take on the extra work? Not everyone wants to be a leader, not everyone wants to sacrifice their lives to the cause of the greater good.

As time has passed, you can see the vocational aspect of being a consultant being slowly squeezed out. Unhappy staff don’t see it as a vocation, they do their bit..and then they go home. So NHS organisations and national bodies, if you want to squeeze that extra bit out, or look for transparency or even look for leaders to step up, think of how attractive that option is.

You can’t bark and ask for vocational commitment; you can’t threaten and ask for transparency; you can’t demand for leadership if you harp on about failure more than success.

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