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Blithering STP: Plackard oils the wheels


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Friday, 2 September 2016

Blithering STP: Plackard oils the wheels

The Monday morning strategy meeting. Only one item on the agenda: the Blithering and District sustainability and transformation plan. Two minutes past ten, and our director of communications is still pacing the room, barking into his mobile.

Martin Plackard’s legendary self-control is slipping. “Look,” he says, pointing out of the window in mock horror as if a 40-foot gorilla has just appeared in the car park, “this is a once in a generation opportunity to scrap a failing system and move to a more sustainable new model and you’re telling me it can’t be done. That’s not what I want to hear. Get back to me when you’ve found a solution.”

“Unbelievable,” he says, ending the call. “Those clowns at PC World are out of the new iPads and won’t be getting any more in until after the management away-day. We’re stuck with these bloody things.”

He picks up the tablet on which Liz Wanhope has been browsing her emails and tosses it across the table.

“RumCo – I mean it’s not even a real brand. Half of them have never worked. Where did we even get these?” Plackard asks.

Dr David Rummage, Blithering’s head of innovation and digital delivery, clears his throat. “Let’s move on, shall we, Martin? There’s a lot to get through this morning.”

Liz Wanhope leans across the table to recover her tablet, shaking it until it flickers into life.

“The purpose of today’s meeting is to work out how we’re going to get the Blithering plan fit for purpose in time for the October deadline. We have almost exactly two months,” she says.

Wanhope’s deadpan delivery, gift for understatement and apparent lack of any sense of imminent danger are the qualities that have kept her in post for three years while most of the area’s other senior personnel have changed with alarming regularity.

In the same period, five hospital chief executives have come and gone, the district council’s leadership has been in turmoil thanks to a long-running fraud trial, and nobody can keep count of the number of finance directors hired and fired by Blithering’s public bodies – an irony not lost on the headline writers at the local papers. 

Only Plackard rivals Wanhope for sheer flameproofness. His tactic of adopting a new job title every few months renders him virtually untraceable.

It is Plackard who speaks now, adopting the tone of urgency that always makes others feel they should adopt the brace position and reach for a sick-bag.

“Let’s be frank. There were some fairly strong objections to our original plan,” he admits, “though most of it was nit-picking stuff about evidence, financial assumptions, timescales, leadership and so on. The good news is that we got a very positive endorsement for the overarching strategy.”

Plackard puts up a slide reminding us of Blithering’s memorable commitment to work together for a kinder, gentler style of high-quality person-centred population-based affordable care for all patients and taxpayers now and in future.

After a further 20 minutes of relentless smugness, members of the whole-system transformation committee are convinced that a few licks of polish will bring the Blithering car-crash of a plan up to showroom standard.

The air of complacency nearly takes us to coffee, until the council’s head of adult social services Julie Sleet pipes up.

“We’re getting crucified in the media. The Guardian and the BBC are running scare stories about STPs. The local press is banging on about cuts and closures every day,” she says. “I mean, look at this…”

She holds up a copy of the Argus with the headline: “We’re all doomed – poor and old people top of hit list in NHS secret plan”.

Plackard gives her a pitying look.

“We’ve got it under control. We’re stepping up our It’s All Going to Be Just Fine campaign on social media. The public aren’t stupid. Nobody pays any attention to the BBC anymore. They get all the reliable information they need from our Twitter feed,” he says.

Sleet isn’t to be fobbed off.

“Nobody knows what an STP is and they’re never going to read the plan. Why don’t we tell them what’s going on in plain language that everyone can understand?”

Plackard sighs. “We can’t talk about the plan until it’s been approved by NHS England and even then I’m not sure we want them to understand it. We simply want them to stop objecting to what they think it is.”

Plackard goes on to explain the difference between a top-down change and a nationally co-ordinated local movement, and the difference between bungled communications and quality-assured managed transparency.

“Some of you lay people may find it hard to tell them apart,” he acknowledges.

Under Plackard’s skilful direction, the rest of the meeting is spent brainstorming a message to convey both the urgency and the justifiable caution informing the Blithering STP planning process. 

Everyone agrees that “going nowhere fast” sums up our position. It’s a slogan we can all buy in to.

Strategy editor: NHS Networks


Anonymous says:
Sep 03, 2016 02:54 PM

The only hope for the EDO's (forgive the franglais acronym) of Blithering is to proactively engage deploying the latest n Breakthrough Collaboration Methodology delivered by Development Assistants :-)

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Sep 04, 2016 08:04 PM

I'm sure you're right. I'll make sure your advice reaches Plackard.