This year there have been a number of shocking cases come to light about NHS care that reinforce the critical importance of making sure the perspectives and concerns of patients, families and staff are listened to and just as importantly acted upon.
We must caution against our response becoming purely about process. The mechanisms which enable staff, patients and families to speak out are vital. We must strengthen them wherever we can, reinforce them at every opportunity and encourage people to use them.
At the same time, we need to keep confronting difficult truths about NHS leadership, behaviours and culture. This involves asking searching, uncomfortable questions of ourselves. The Health and Care LGBTQ+ Leaders’ Network, of which I am the Co-Chair, has consistently found that those who are LGBQT+ communities don’t feel their voice is sufficiently sought or heard by the NHS and that the specific needs of different parts of the community are not being adequately addressed.
To my mind, this is about the painstaking work of creating an environment where every single voice matters and every single voice is heard. It’s about being curious about the people around and being careful not to make assumptions. It’s being a good ally when someone’s identity isn’t being recognised. It may be in relation to the patient who doesn’t agree with the treatment they are being prescribed. It may be the family member who has cause for concern about their loved one’s care within the NHS. It could be the staff member who knows, instinctively, that there is a problem with safety and doesn’t know where to take it.
This means modelling behaviours that make it explicitly clear that concerns can be aired without fear of sanction, silence or inaction. It is about everyday activism to empower marginalised voices and dismantle structures which institutionalise discrimination and exclusion. As a large employer and service provider embedded within local communities, the NHS has the power – and the responsibility – to help tackle the issues that face us within wider society.
There isn’t an action plan or a process that, on its own, will address these issues. The responsibility rests with each and every one of us.