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The meet-free NHS

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The meet-free NHS

We have too many meetings. This outrageous slur has been levelled at our beloved NHS by Jocelyn Cornwell, the chief executive of a charity. The HSJ reports a speech at a patient safety conference where she said: “NHS organisations seem to be absolutely consumed by meetings and people spending time in meetings. It is a total waste of time and really needs to be stopped.”

Middle managers need a stronger voice, she said. Above all, they need to stop meeting.

Ms Cornwell is not only missing the point of middle management, she is consigning a large section of the workforce to a future devoid of hope and meaning. How would they fill their time? What would they do instead? How would they make friends? Where would they go?

Managers would be condemned to drift about hospitals and CCG premises, congregating aimlessly in communal areas with nothing to say to one another, avoiding eye contact as they pass in the corridor, staring forlornly at empty Outlook calendars, longing for a quality paper to write or performance figures to massage.

A world without meetings would be a world without reporting, reviewing or responding, an eternal blank agenda stretching endlessly into a murky future where there are no matters arising, no priorities to set, no actions or next steps, no forecasts, no plans, no risks to register, no learning to learn from, no good practice to yearn for, no stakeholders to consult, no options to consider, no expectations to manage, no ambitions to aspire to, no deadlines to reset and no documents to refresh.

A flipchartless, whiteboardless, handoutless world would be dangerously meaningful, a warzone of decision making where actions have consequences, where people think for themselves and where things get done. Imagine if risks could can no longer be shared, managed, minimised or mitigated but actually had to be taken.

A living hell.

We can get through this. Ms Cornwell underestimates the resourcefulness, feral cunning and sheer capacity for survival of the manager class.

A stronger voice?  Fewer meetings?  Fine, but not without due process.

Let’s start with a full needs assessment followed by a stakeholder consultation.

What do we mean by “stronger voice”? This will need to be agreed before we can go forward with purpose to the next stage. We’d better have a regional rolling roadshow of interactive workshops to come up with a draft definition.

What about those currently lacking a voice? They cannot be expected to go from no voice to full voice without support. We’ll need a national Our Changing Voices or All Voices Count programme with its own Twitter account and logo, and a Stronger Voices Together Week where we can celebrate success, share and emote.  

After a suitable period for reflection and feeding back involving numerous redrafts of the recommendations and extensive negotiation with unions and professional bodies, we’ll be ready to move into the pre-implementation phase.

We'll need guidance (A Meetingless NHS: Towards Progress), quality and assurance frameworks, online resources, a new NHS Constitution, a Five Year Forward View for managers – everyone else has one – plain English guides (concise, handy or better still bite-size), FAQs, blogs, myth and jargon busters, templates and an extensive retraining programme to equip individual managers with the tools and inner resources to participate robustly in pilot meeting-free environments.

It will be a new world, but we’re ready to aim to prepare for it. Let’s get a scoping meeting in the diary.

Minute-taker: Julian Patterson


eugene hammond
eugene hammond says:
Jul 14, 2017 07:57 AM

I have often thought this and, when I stopped laughing, I realised that we need a meeting to discuss the blog!!!
On the serious side, I have found that well managed, meetings can be a good way of checking that people are doing their job properly.

rob wosley
rob wosley says:
Aug 04, 2017 02:00 PM

As long as they're proportionate to requirements and not an endless parade of showboating/backslapping or up-sucking, I agree.

Anonymous says:
Jul 14, 2017 08:45 AM

Absolutely true;too many meetings but at times matters discussed and agreed on at meetings never provide successful outcomes?

Anonymous says:
Jul 14, 2017 11:50 AM

'dangerously meaningful, a warzone of decision making where actions have consequences, where people think for themselves and where things get done. Imagine if risks could can no longer be shared, managed, minimised or mitigated but actually had to be taken.' That's how decisions on fire resistant or non fire resistant cladding get made.

Judy Aldred
Judy Aldred says:
Jul 14, 2017 02:34 PM

Meetings are bad but conferences and award ceremonies are even worse.
At the moment there seems to be a reasonably big health conference every week. What do they really offer except an income for those organising them? How much improvement to care is actually made by those attending? Why does NHS Digital and NHS England have to be at every one - how much is that costing them??
As for award ceremonies. They are an industry in themselves. One or two a year is reasonable but every time an NHS team enters there is always costs for the dinner/transport/time out of office. Stop the lot - how much would be saved?
This is my specialist rant area!
Judy Aldred

Anonymous says:
Jul 18, 2017 08:42 AM

Absolutely agree!

Clive Spindley
Clive Spindley says:
Jul 15, 2017 06:55 AM

how about the managers start recording their time, so that the data can be used to provide some insight into how they are spending their time (and taxpayers money), this is what most professionals (not paid for by taxpayers) have to do, best zip it up NOW, anyway that's a management issue

rob wosley
rob wosley says:
Aug 04, 2017 01:59 PM

We already do in the Trust I work at. Then comes the thorny issue of continuing to work for free, or risking taking time off in lieu, and coming back to a backlog.

Alan Moore
Alan Moore says:
Jul 25, 2017 03:25 PM

Having had a meeting to discuss the blog with several colleagues and a focus group of patients and stakeholders as well as the staff forum we decided to commission a survey to test the theory and action plan that came out of the discussions and meetings. We have analysed the results of the survey against the meetings and discussions outcomes and commissioned a task-and-finish group to monitor the ongoing implications. There has been an environmental analysis, a GDPR risk assessment and an IPC action plan drawn up to ensure that our ideas are not infectious. Our conclusion was .... meetings are useless as nothing ever happens to change anything after them.