Blithering leads the way
Time for another visit to NHS Blithering, just as England’s most challenged health economy is busy raising the profile of the local sustainability and transformation plan in the media.
Spume gets it out
Councillor Alan Spume is unrepentant. A picture of the leader of Blithering Council is splashed across the front page of the Argus under a banner headline reading “Secret NHS plan leaked.”
Everyone agrees that it’s embarrassing. Other members of the Joint Stakeholders Committee including CCG accountable officer Liz Wanhope and newly appointed chief exec of the FT Stephanie Stent have been caught on the hop.
Martin Plackard, director of sustainable communications and digital transformation, has had a “difficult conversation” with NHS England’s comms team, who remind him that all leaks need to follow the appropriate template and must be approved by Simon Stevens’ office.
“It had to be done,” says Spume. “It was the only way to get our point across.”
Liz Wanhope nods sympathetically: “Yes, social care and public health cuts, services at breaking point…”
“Don’t be daft,” says Spume. “I mean we had to leak it. The papers weren’t going to take any notice of the world’s most boring document if we attached it to a press release, were they Plackard?”
“Exactly,” says Plackard. “It would have taken us months to get anyone interested in the STP. We don’t even have the threat of an A&E closure to lead with. A leak from the council ‘strongly opposing’ NHS plans was the next best thing. We drafted it and Alan’s people got it out.”
“Bit of an update on the A&E situation later on in the agenda actually, Martin,” says Stephanie.
“Oh, great,” says Plackard. “Follow-up opportunity for the Friday edition, perhaps? Happy to help with the messaging, Stephanie.”
Many happy returns
Dr David Rummage, head of clinical business innovation, is chairing the monthly locality forum.
Rummage frowns. “Run that past me one more time.”
The woman from NHS England frowns back. She has been trying for 20 minutes to explain how GPs who sign up to the MCP contract will be able to revert to the current GP contract later if things don’t work out.
“It’s very simple,” she says. “If after, say, two years you decide that working at scale in a sustainable, modern care system isn’t for you, you can opt to return to a more traditional model of general practice scratching a living in a dilapidated Portakabin. That’s entirely up to you and we’re absolutely not going to push you one way or the other.”
Rummage frowns again. “But an MCP contract could run for 15 years. So you’ve given up your existing contract and donated your patient list to the MCP, things go well for a while then in year ten everything goes tits up, what then?”
NHS England Woman smiles. “You’d still have exactly the same right to revert on the terms of the prevailing GP contract, where available. And of course your patients, assuming they still know who you are, will be entirely free to leave the fabulous local polyclinic-cum-leisure centre-cum-retail outlet-cum-boutique hotel and follow you back to your draughty Portakabin – as long as it hasn’t been knocked down to make way for affordable housing.”
Binning the jargon
The Friday meeting of the engagement strategy committee is underway with Martin Plackard in the chair. Natalie Plackard, an independent brand consultant, has been brought in to facilitate a discussion about the launch strategy for the Blithering ACO.
She explains that there are three problems. First, no one really knows what an ACO is, second, no one can remember what it stands for and third, thanks to its associations with the US healthcare system the term is toxic – a point her colleague Tom illustrates by adding a large green cloud with “toxic” in red capitals to the cartoony thing that now covers one wall.
“What we need is something that really speaks to ordinary people in an engaging and meaningful way,” says Natalie. “We need to get away from this stale, inward-looking, self-referential jargon and come up with something fresh that really says Blithering.”
After a two-hour brainstorming session we finally arrive at a completely new acronym of our own with not just three but four letters. From now on we will use the term LACS to mean Local Affordable Care System. The term ACO will be banned, except of course to explain the Blithering LACS model to ordinary people.
Before the meeting ends, Martin Plackard reminds us of the need to involve patients at every step of the way. He sets a date for a focus group where LACS can be re-co-created with patients and the public, so that everyone has a real sense of ownership.
It’s Friday and Liz Wanhope is paler than usual when she tracks down Martin Plackard at the coffee machine.
“The Argus wants to speak to me, Martin. Any idea why?”
“I expect it’s about this,” says Plackard, putting down his mochaccino and picking up a newspaper with the headline “Blithering hospital boss accused of covering up A&E closure”.
“Oh, God,” says Wanhope. “I thought you said you’d help Stephanie.”
“I did,” says Plackard. “This is brilliant. Our STP is really on the radar now.”
Transformation editor: Julian Patterson