“The day we all dread. I was working as the “EPIC” – “the Emergency Physician In Charge”. The department was entirely full, we had a queue of paramedics trying to find an inch of corridor for their patients. And then the moment every Emergency Doctor fears – a mother runs into the department and passes me her choking blue baby. I had nowhere to deliver the care I was trained to provide, no equipment to hand and no help.”
Thus was the way a client of ours began a conference speech recently. It stopped the room and filled it with emotion. The tremors in his voice clear as he recalled the moment. He was highlighting the challenges of space and resources that many of our healthcare and other public sector clients face on a daily basis – this was a real story, not made-up for effect. Neither was it a story of NHS performance targets. He could have started by saying the compliance of his trust to the 4-hour standard was 83.2% and this was heavily influenced by the daily bed occupancy being at an average of 97.9% – but that would have been less engaging and somehow unreal. The focus on numbers and constitutional standards over the last decade or so has unarguably led to an improvement of the quality of service and experience to patients. However, when used without patient stories or real experience, we can dehumanise the situation and permit us to talk in the abstract too often. He chose to make it real for us and, in so doing, was a shining light in the conference. The waiting time to see him at lunchtime grew and grew.
What did I learn? Two things: First of all, the power of an effective narrative is so strong – stories really engage, energise, and activate most of us, particular those of us involved in delivering services for people. And, particularly those involving human endeavour – whether you like Ineos or not, following the story of how Elliot Kipchoge ran a marathon in less than 2 hours recently was amazing.
Secondly, dedicated public servants are amazing people. They should not have to act as superheroes but are asked to do so daily. And, thank goodness they do as they save lives:
“After what seemed an age trying to dislodge the offending food in the middle of the corridor, the baby started breathing again.”
This story with a happy ending is very valuable and necessary reflection on why a well-functioning emergency department, one in which a patient can be treated well and in good time, is so important. And we hope that these days happen less often through the legacy of the work that we do:
“The lasting legacy of the work that we did with 2020 Delivery is how this has changed our culture. I’m not going to tell you that I never have any more bad days at work, there are less, but they still happen. What has changed in that our team have seen what is possible. That they know they have the capability to make a positive and sustainable change.”
This individual is amazing and driving a programme to change the way he and his colleagues serve the public. What a privilege it is to have worked with him and many who share his passion for doing their best.
Author: Mike Meredith