…I attended a meeting last year, one of those energy-sapping, soul-destroying, don’t bring your intellect and be sure to park your brain in a jar and hang your balls on a coat-peg before you attend kind of meetings; one of many I attended in five years in the NHS. Anyhow, I remember this one particularly because of the marvellous slide (Assault by PowerPoint is mandatory in the NHS) that was presented to the group about halfway through the brainwashing, I mean informative presentation. The slide boldly proclaimed, “Challenge Accepted”. My heart sank and my balls would have shrunk had they not been hanging on the coat-peg outside the meeting room. Challenge Accepted; it’s right up there with that classic, “Failure Is Not An Option”, which as you will know if you have worked in the Public Sector, especially the NHS, is not just an option but the accepted and expected way of doing things.
I looked around the room at my colleagues, some still displaying the faint glimmers of life. They reminded me a bit of the ultimately doomed robot in the final scene of the Terminator film where you can see the eyes are still glimmering but you know the pressure of the machinery pushing down on it is going to squeeze every last bit of life and hope from its complex steely structure. The cheery young woman delivering the presentation seemed to sing as she announced the words “Challenge Accepted” with all the aplomb of a clueless female David Brent. She looked around, making fleeting eye-contact as if seeking approval from those in the room, there was an awkward pregnant pause as she waited for people to nod or grunt their agreement; I think the sexy phrase is that “she was seeking buy-in from her stakeholders”. The less thoughtful (that’s polite speak for those promoted way beyond their intelligence) in the room reciprocated and as the group saw which way the wind was blowing those with the biggest financial commitments who could never get such a well-paid job anywhere else quickly followed suit. The room was soon filled with nodding heads and the cattle-like sound of approving grunts. I could have said something and on many occasion’s I would have, but I had reached a point at my employment in the NHS where I understood that the purpose of gathering people into a room is not to engage with them but to instruct and cajole them. My mind and my mouth had already got me into enough trouble to ensure I would be pushed out the NHS…opinions are unwelcome in the NHS and Public Sector, especially if they differ from the conventional wisdom.
We share a great deal of our genetic make-up with Chimps. Chimps imitate the behaviours of their fellow monkeys around them and always play-up to the strongest member of the group in order to secure their role in the hierarchy…being a compliant monkey ensures a plentiful supply of bananas and even the odd bit of nooky if you are really good. Chimp societies and hierarchies are essentially the same as Public Sector organisations; play up to the boss, don’t disagree with them (especially not in public) and make sure you are available to embark on a project of their choosing at any time. If the project happens to be chasing and hitting another less obedient member of the group then do this with gusto and show the boss that you are prepared to be a ruthless heartless asshole as long as that’s what they want.
Some readers may remember a news story from last year about Senior NHS Managers (we won’t call them leaders as this link makes clear why) being told to chant, “We Can Do It” as they approached the annually challenging winter period. What was going through the heads (other than the mortgage and school fees) of the idiots doing this and more worryingly what drugs were the people encouraging them to do this actually on? I imagine the hospital meds cabinet took a serious hammering just before this meeting occurred. But this was a great example of unquestioning chimp behaviour and was it not for the fact that those displaying these behaviours were paid for by the public purse and were in charge of our health service it would be funny. When did hope and chanting ever become a viable strategy for delivering safe healthcare?
But back to our original challenge. The challenge itself was utterly unachievable, in fact, the challenge was beyond ridiculous. There was more chance of making snowmen in hell than delivering the ridiculous levels of cost-cutting that were being imposed on the health system; arbitrary numbers plucked from the air by more important chimps in a bigger tree. And everyone in the room knew what they were being asked was unachievable, but nobody disagreed or asked questions about the logic behind the proposal. No one disagreed or questioned because their jobs depended on keeping their mouths shut and not rocking the boat. Ethics and espoused values about welcoming difference and debate count for nothing when the chips are down and the chimps are in town. And as for the patients and the users of healthcare services in the county, they were never mentioned. But don’t worry, if they get ill they can just chant their way through it…