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The bell tolls for Longstay

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The bell tolls for Longstay

Martin Plackard frowned. Plackard’s frown, like most of his expressions, was an almost imperceptible variation on his usual façade of stoical cheerfulness and earnest resolve. A casual observer might have concluded that here was a man struggling bravely with a chronic bowel complaint.

Sir Trevor Longstay was not a casual observer. He could - he was fond of saying - read people like a book.

“Problem, Flackard?” he asked, fixing his good eye on Blithering’s director of communications, corporate identity and co-production initiatives.

“Not at all, Sir Trevor,” Plackard replied. “It’s a brilliant idea, only I wonder if this is quite the right moment to...”

“Nonsense, man! There’s no better time to rally the troops, bang a few heads together, pick off the stragglers.”

The Blithering STP task and finish group was meeting to discuss Blithering Change Day. Sir Trevor, the group’s chair, was taking an unusually close interest in the proceedings. Earlier he had introduced Beverly Heaver, an intense woman with a powerful scent of indelible marker, from NHS England’s Strategic Imagineering Unit.

“Bev is here to shake things up,” he had said, without further explanation.

Sir Trevor, who had made his considerable fortune in clinical waste disposal, had little time for clinicians or NHS managers, both of which got in the way of efficient processes. He liked management consultants, though, as they always agreed with him and were easy to fire.

Bev Heaver lost no time in shaking things up. Plackard’s version of Change Day always satisfied the need to be seen to be listening to new ideas without any of the drawbacks of actually doing so. As a result, his programme was a modest affair, the highlight of which was a review of last year’s pledges over coffee. The best would go forward to the STP’s Towards Implementation Committee, a body from which no idea had ever emerged alive.

After thanking Plackard for all he had done, Bev set about undoing it. Her alternative was a day long “innovation-fest” including “sharing” sessions, “celebrating success showcases” and a “solve-athon” where small groups would compete against the clock to come up with practical solutions to social care underfunding, A&E overcrowding, the GP workforce crisis, frailty and dementia. “No idea will be too dumb,” she said.

Dr David Rummage warned her not to underestimate the Blithering workforce. Bev beamed at him. “I think David has just volunteered to lead our Banishing Negativity session,” she said. Rummage gave her the look of pity and mild hatred he usually reserved for Plackard.

Bev’s most radical idea, and the one that had prompted Plackard’s frown, was to end the day with a motivational exercise led by Sir Trevor.    

Sir Trevor was not known for his light touch. A recent blog entitled “Pull your bloody socks up, you useless slackers!” had not gone down well, prompting calls for his resignation on Twitter and in the local papers. 

Bev handed out sticky notes and led a discussion aimed at finding a format that would suit Sir Trevor’s leadership style.

Sir Trevor’s suggestions of a team-building tough mudder or a bare knuckle boxing contest between primary and secondary care were swiftly rejected on health and safety grounds. Sir Trevor also vetoed Bev’s suggestion that he should lead senior managers in an acapella rendition of All You Need is Love.

Rummage proposed that everyone could convey the mission and values of the Blithering accountable care system through the medium of expressive dance – then buried his face in his hands when Bev thanked him warmly and asked the group for feedback on his idea.

“We really value your contribution, David,” she said after 10 minutes of discussion, “but not everyone will feel comfortable engaging with change through dance and it may also exclude those from other new care faith groups.” Rummage assured her that it was okay, he understood.

Finally it was agreed that Sir Trevor would ask local system leaders to join him in a positive reinforcement exercise. Bev would light some josticks (under the close supervision of the fire officer and with due regard to the provisions of the Blithering smoking policy) and use her Tibetan bells to bring the room’s energy levels into balance. Then everyone would chant “Can we fix it? Yes we can!” for several minutes.

“Let’s see if we can raise the roof,” Bev said.

Sir Trevor said he would make it clear that participation, like continued employment, was entirely a matter of personal choice. Adopting what he fancied to be a jocular tone, he added that “anyone who tweets or talks to the Argus about it can expect to meet with a sticky end”.

Plackard’s expression hadn’t changed for an hour. Now he was shaking his head.

“Oh, for God’s sake, cheer up Flackard,” said Sir Trevor. “What could possibly go wrong?”

Editor: Julian Patterson


Anonymous says:
Oct 02, 2017 09:10 AM

Having now read the Guardian and this, a recent regional briefing now makes sense.
Strange how Scoop, Muck & Dizzy never told Bob the Builder to F-off when he tried the motivational technique.
Clear we should never try to encourage others that they can actually get things done or ever make things better!

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Oct 02, 2017 10:55 AM

I've had the misfortune to attend "motivational" workshops promising higher sales, greater fulfilment, better relationships and so on. They never did it for me, but I defer to Scoop, Muck and Dizzy. Perhaps Bob is a particularly inspiring manager.