Martin Plackard’s rear view
At the end of December Radio 4’s Today programme invited guest editors to shape the morning’s output. They included Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, and Martin Plackard, director of person-centred engagement and digital road-mapping at Blithering CCG. Here, for anyone who missed it, is a transcript of an interview with Martin by the BBC’s Sarah Montague.
Sarah Montague: Let’s start with your proudest moment of 2016.
Martin Plackard: Too many to list, but I would have to mention our HSJ award for being Most Improved Health Economy in the Severely Challenged category. The judges concluded that we had made tremendous progress since 2015…
SM: ….when Blithering was named Worst Commissioning Group of All Time by the World Health Organisation.
MP: Yes, quite. So a really significant achievement.
SM: And yet you remain at the bottom of every NHS league table including for waiting times, mortality, patient experience, staff morale, financial performance…
MP: That’s nit-picking, frankly. But look, league tables are not important. Blithering is people and values led not target driven. It’s outcomes that matter to hard-working families.
SM: When Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England visited Blithering recently, he said it was “a complete shambles and a salutary lesson in how not to run a health economy”. What do you think he meant by that?
MP: You could take it in a number of ways but it needs to be seen in context. Look we’ve never made a secret of the health challenges we face in Blithering which, remember, is one of the most deprived areas of the country, particularly when it comes to leadership talent.
SM: Okay, but what about NHS Improvement boss Jim Mackey’s comment a few weeks later that Blithering had launched “a string of barmy schemes at a cost of millions of pounds with little or no discernible benefit”.
MP: I think you’ll find that was Jim’s dry sense of humour. I see it as his way of thanking the Blithering top team for being bold enough to take risks that some others are reluctant to take, and for having the courage to share the learning even when not everything has gone according to plan.
SM: Let’s talk about some of those bold risks: personal booze budgets for teenagers and your controversial “Oi, Fatty!” campaign against obesity, both of which generated a storm of negative media.
MP: It’s true we got a fantastic volume of coverage, not all of it fully behind our approach, but I’m not going to apologise for drawing attention to some of the biggest health issues of our age.
SM: During your alcohol awareness scheme the police reported unprecedented levels of drunkenness, with many of the children involved ending up in A&E.
MP: We prefer to describe them as young people, Sarah, to avoid stigmatising labels.
To answer your question, yes there were a few teething problems with the Have a Responsible Pint on Us campaign, but look at what we achieved: more people signed up than for any other public health initiative and incredibly positive user feedback, including from young people who had never tried alcohol before.
SM: The fact remains that you were paying people to drink, which just sounds incredibly stupid.
MP: The difference was we were paying them to drink responsibly – and at designated centres under the supervision of trained frontline professionals.
SM: You mean pubs and bar staff with a vested interest in selling as much booze to kids as possible?
MP: Before anyone could become an alcohol awareness buddy, they had to sign up to our Healthy Drinking Partners’ Charter, which includes a strict code of conduct. We were very clear that anyone who flouted the code would be banned from working as a buddy in future.
SM: Turning to the obesity campaign, this was described by the Guardian as “the vilest public health campaign ever”.
MP: Which was exactly the kind of strong reaction we had been hoping for. It was a deliberately hard-hitting campaign designed to make people of mass sit up and take notice – or if they couldn’t sit up, ask themselves: “Is it because I’ve just consumed my own body weight in chocolate biscuits or perhaps because I’ve suffered a fatal heart attack in front of the telly?”
SM: Finally, Martin Plackard, what do you think 2017 has in store for Blithering?
MP: Well, Sarah, I’d like to say we’re going to have an easier ride but the truth is that it’s going to be another tough year. But we’ve worked incredibly hard in recent weeks to complete our local sustainability and transformation plan, which makes some very real draft commitments to vision, engagement and delivery.
SM: Which are what exactly?
MP: Expect to see a more digitally enabled, place-based Blithering working together as a whole system and co-producing health innovation with stakeholders every step of the way. To make that happen we’re going to need more tools, more templates and of course more plans. It’s going to be an exciting year.
SM: We’ll have to leave it there, I'm afraid. Martin Plackard, thank you.
Media editor: Julian Patterson