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The innovation greenhouse


Blog headlines

  • Social distancing the Longstay way
    27 March 2020

    We asked Sir Trevor Longstay, chief executive of the NHS Blithering University Hospitals Foundation Trust and commander-in-chief of the Blithering Covid-19 Taskforce to give us some practical tips on social distancing. Here he shares some of the lessons learned over four decades of leadership – not all of them relevant or epidemiologically sound

  • Nothing left to shift: fears grow over NHS paradigm supply
    12 March 2020

    The government has issued a stark warning that stocks of paradigms and other basic supplies could soon run out if NHS managers continue panic-buying.

  • Matt Hancock’s diary – a week of levelling up
    27 February 2020

    Taking personal charge of global pandemics is one of the perks of this job. I’m referring to coronavirus, of course, and I’m booked to appear on Sky News to talk about it.

  • Exceeding your expectations: the Blithering staff survey
    20 February 2020

    Staff at NHS Blithering feel listened to “at least once a year” and report that their expectations of taking part in surveys have been “met” or “exceeded” in the past 12 months.

  • Martin Plackard’s week: Tuesday
    7 February 2020

    The second in our series of privileged insights to the working life of Martin Plackard, the NHS’s most gifted communicator

  • Martin Plackard’s week: Monday
    30 January 2020

    First in an occasional series of glimpses into a typical week in the life of Martin Plackard, the NHS's most influential strategic communicator

  • A quick guide to quick guides
    24 January 2020

    Few of us have time for long documents that take ages to read or a lot of expertise to put together. That’s where quick guides come in.

  • Towards people and impact
    17 January 2020

    This week the Royal Pharmaceutical Society advertised for a head of engagement and belonging. Such titles can be controversial – but not for Martin Plackard, whose CV features a number of leadership roles in the fields of impact, euphemism management and talent delivery.

  • National log-in reset will change everything
    9 January 2020

    This week the Department of Health and Social Care announced a £40m investment to make it easier to log-in to NHS computers. It’s a laudable aim, akin to fitting a keyless entry system to a Ford Anglia to make it go faster.

  • Martin Plackard’s top tips for making a difference in 2020
    3 January 2020

    NHS Blithering’s Martin Plackard MBE was recognised in the new year honours list for services to strategic communications and meaningful engagement. Here he gives his top tips for others who hope to make a very real difference to people, communities and their own career prospects in 2020.

  • My amazing Twitter year – by Matt Hancock
    20 December 2019

    It's been a fantastic year on social media for the secretary of state for health and the other thing. Here it is in very nearly his own words

  • Sustainability and transformation parties: mandatory guidance
    5 December 2019

    As Christmas fast approaches, system leaders are getting ready for so-called sustainability and transformation parties, the highlight of the year for those who enjoy kinky integration with strangers.

  • All the latest health policy news from the general **** campaign
    29 November 2019

    Because purdah is still in force, this week’s **** has been heavily redacted. Here are the main parties’ plans for government as set out in their manifestos. A full unexpurgated version can be obtained from **** Party HQ.

  • New outfit more splendidly integrated than ever
    21 November 2019

    The emperor has announced plans for yet another new outfit, amid claims that this one will be even more splendid than the last.

  • Purdah – guidance for professionals
    15 November 2019

    After Christmas and the HSJ Awards, purdah is Martin Plackard’s favourite time of year.

  • Tools honoured in Blithering awards
    8 November 2019

    The Blithering Celebrating Success Awards are always eagerly anticipated. Every November, they recognise the commitment and dedication of people who put other people at the heart of everything they do before going the extra mile in their shoes. They also reflect the passionate belief of the organisers, Spume Media, in an awards-led approach to healthcare improvement science.

  • Provisional findings of the interim report
    31 October 2019

    The programme delivery group at One Blithering, the emergent NHS Blithering integrated care system, has published an interim report containing the provisional findings of a year-long strategic review.

  • Toast
    25 October 2019

    "The biggest complaint about the NHS which is beloved by everyone is about the food, and the biggest complaint about the food is about the lack of toast.”

  • Plackard’s misdirection and a victory for old power
    17 October 2019

    In which no one can find Plackard's signposting event, an old foe returns from his past and Sir Trevor Longstay loses interest in compassion

  • Sir Trevor defends revolving door
    4 October 2019

    Sir Trevor Longstay has hit out at proposals designed to make it harder for failed NHS directors to get new jobs with no questions asked.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

The innovation greenhouse

Faced with ordinary problems that they cannot solve – lack of funds, staff shortages, rising demand, falling morale (you know the ones) – our leaders propose extraordinary solutions.

By “extraordinary” we do not mean imaginative or clever, but bizarrely disconnected from reality or designed to avoid it altogether.

Imagine a medieval scene in which the castle gates are soon to be breached and the besieged army has run out of arrows and boiling oil. Any sensible leader might resort to dropping lumps of stone from the ramparts, kitchen utensils, effluent from the latrine or the bodies of serfs on the enemy.

If this were an NHS England production, the commander would instead declare: “Fetch my spacecraft – you know, the one with the photon torpedoes!” 

“But sire, we have no such device.”

“Then fashion me one, sirrah, in yon innovation greenhouse.”

“You what, my liege?”

At this point in the medieval siege drama, the players would acknowledge that the king had lost his last marble, before lowering the drawbridge and throwing themselves on the mercy of the invading army.

But this is an NHS management production, so the plot just keeps getting sillier. And in case you’re not quite following this one, it was revealed this week by the soothsayers of the NHS England press office, who foretold a marvellous plan to build, yes, an “innovation greenhouse”, the precise nature of which we shall come to shortly.

First the dubious science.

In impossible situations, human beings often resort to the improbable.

Once upon a time it would have been a goat tethered to a tree or the ritual sacrifice of a virgin to placate the angry gods. But we no longer believe in gods and even if we did it’s unlikely that any serious placating would occur in the face of opposition from animal rights groups and militant virgins.

The only credible god for a rational age is technology and the new worship is called innovation. This is not to be confused with actual innovation, which proceeds quietly and results in things of benefit to humanity, such as penicillin, as well as things that probably weren’t an unqualified good idea, such as nuclear weapons.

Innovation in the NHS England sense of the word is a rite, an incantation, a whiff of incense here, a solemn vow by a very senior manager there; a mystery that is not meant to be comprehended but to be believed unquestioningly, like transubstantiation or Richard and Judy.

Innovation hovers just out of reach, promising relief from our earthly problems – crappy IT systems, dilapidated buildings, unfeasible staff rosters – and ultimately salvation.

It is an act of faith made necessary by the realisation that healthcare does not cure the sick but creates them. Just as building bigger roads gives people more reasons to travel, bigger hospitals encourage people to embrace ill-health. (Think about this carefully next time you feel the urge to complain about shortages of doctors and nurses. Could they be the problem?)

Healthy living may be a step in the right direction, but it is dull and takes a long time to work. 

Saint Simon promised Healthy New Towns, but everyone thought of Milton Keynes and Stevenage and stayed away. He had a vision in which there were five lean years, during which we would release the “untapped energy of people and communities”, though to what end was never clear. It was followed by a vision of ten still leaner but wonderfully integrated years, the so-called long-term dream. Then we knew for sure he was raving.

Only the innovation greenhouse can save us. On its elaborate frameworks and trellises will grow the artificially intelligent tomatoes and cucumbers on which the future of the NHS depends. They will taste like veg used to before it spent too long in cold storage en route to Tesco and Asda. They will have benefits we can only imagine. They will form part of our integrated five a day, the basis of a truly wholesome diet.

In this brave new world, weeds will grow in the decaying remains of hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, the fading memorials to our inefficient and unhealthy past. Everywhere innovation will flourish – and the bright-eyed, vigorous children of the future will abound with untapped energy.

Editor: Julian Patterson 


Steve Benjamin
Steve Benjamin says:
Sep 06, 2019 12:11 PM

Brilliant. How do you get away with saying the things we all think and feel and want to say? I think it is because the master of the universe (NHS) are too thick to realise that it refers to them ala Martin Packard et al

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Sep 07, 2019 12:50 AM

Thanks Steve. I get away with it because nobody ever thinks it's about them. And of course it never is.

Anonymous says:
Sep 06, 2019 04:02 PM

Welcome back Julian. I see that 2 weeks away from the Madd(en)ing Crowd has certainly done you no end of good! To continue the space ship theme suspect the Innovation Greenhouse will doubtless prove to be the ultimate final frontier - somewhere you boldly go when you have finally run out of ideas around where to hide your overspend. Hope there's a decent pot of money associated with this particular rainbow (or is the point of the Innovation Greenhouse that there is no pot ….how zen?) – Mmmmm – on second thoughts maybe best to stay out of the Greenhouse and perhaps consider not mowing the lawn for a couple of months (again) and pray commissioners don’t notice :)

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Sep 07, 2019 12:48 AM

Thank you, Anon. The beauty of this particular frontier is that it's always a few light years away, not unlike financial balance.

Alan Walshaw
Alan Walshaw says:
Sep 09, 2019 08:44 AM

Hi, I'm retiring in less than 3 weeks! Yippee, but just to let you know that your comments on the NHS etc. have kept me amused over the years. I'm constantly pleased and amazed by the quality of your humour and writing. Keep up the great work (even if I'm no longer reading it, 'cause let's face it who wants to still be attached to the NHS umbilical)! Many thanks and kind regards.

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Sep 10, 2019 05:26 PM

Alan - thanks for your kind message and good wishes for a happy retirement

Anonymous says:
Sep 09, 2019 10:22 AM

Great metaphor! My heart sinks when the word 'innovative' is used as well as the magic world new technology will offer. My other related bugbear is the blind faith put in algorithms.

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Sep 10, 2019 05:28 PM

I share your suspicion of algorithms. Nasty, unreliable things