Developing an esprit de corps to transform health and social care services
by Allan LEONARD
4 April 2019
I delivered the following speech at a presentation on Integrated Care Partnerships, at a conference event, “Transformation: Paving the Way Forward”, organised by the Northern Ireland Healthcare Leadership Form (NIHLF):
My name is Allan Leonard and I am a carer representative on the Ards committee of the Integrated Care Partnership. My wife, Beverley, is a service user representative on the same committee. We have participated in the ICP project since 2013.
My main point is teamwork.
When Beverley had a severe stroke at the age of 40, she spent five months in hospitals and several years thereafter recovering from her physical and psychological injuries. We have both learnt a lot about the health and social care system in Northern Ireland, a bit earlier than we expected to.
Throughout, I became very aware of the team of professionals involved in Beverley’s treatments — in the Intensive Care Unit and the neuroscience ward at Royal Victoria Hospital; the integration of nursing care with physiotherapy and occupational therapy at the Regional Acquired Brain Injury Unit at Musgrave Hospital; and outpatient services by the community stroke unit at Bangor Hospital. Beverley’s recovery was improved by good communication and coordinated efforts amongst everyone involved.
But it wasn’t perfect; there’s always room for improvement. We were surprised that health charities aren’t included in this process; there is scant signposting, often leaving both service user and carer rummaging around for knowledge and support.
So when we learned about the ICP project, we both keenly signed up.
One way ICPs are distinctive is their inclusion on non-NHS voices, such as ambulance services, pharmacies, the voluntary and community sector, service users, carers, and now, local municipal councils. This is a wholly different dynamic than the usual Health Trust-GP relationship — we’re beyond Alliance contracts and all the better for that, in my opinion.
Yes, it took time for Beverley and me and others not au fait with the alphabet soup of health abbreviations; new ones seem to pop up regularly!
But much more significant was the development of a esprit de corps among all of us.
This came about for two reasons, I argue.
The first is the skillful stewarding by our committee lead, Dr John Winter GP, who ensures that all voices round the table are heard. It helps that we have receptive and attentive participants. Good leadership is abetted by an engaged audience.
And that is linked to the second reason — meaningful engagement. Various ICP participants across Northern Ireland have co-designed and co-produced real projects that have had real benefits to service users, with improved outcomes as well as better working practices for all concerned. In our locale, this includes Early Supported Discharge, Enhanced Care at Home, and identifying hidden carers.
I am optimistic that the ICP project will be transformed into a mainstream way of thinking and doing. I have seen how each participant brings their professional and personal experience to the table, with all views valued equally, but all expected to contribute to better solutions. The learning curve may be a little steeper, but not that much. A major benefit is a greater sense of ownership of the outcomes and with such engagement, the more likelihood of improved health and wellbeing for the wider population.
Beverley and I have our own nickname: “Team Bev”. This recognises the focus of attention on the service user, who is the key but not only player in her recovery and healthy future.
Now is the time to transform how design, develop, and implement integrated health and social care services in Northern Ireland.