Lynn Williams, unpaid carer, argues that humanity should be at the heart of every political decision driving public service reform.
Caring for someone you love often plunges you into the heart of a public service maelstrom. The last few years in “Chez Williams” have brought numerous professionals into our lives – physiotherapists, OTs, a whole gaggle of different hospital consultants, specialist nurses and so many others. (I’ll leave our recent DWP/ATOS experience for another day!)
In reflecting on all that has happened to us, there has been one factor clearly evident in every good experience; professionals who have treated us both with tangible humanity.
The consultant who hunkered down on his knees to speak face to face to my husband – who saw the funny and deeply intelligent man behind the wheelchair; the specialist nurses who understand my husband’s needs and who have helped us to laugh during difficult periods which I can’t even begin to describe; the local rehab OT who took time to get to know us, to listen to my husband’s desires for his life and who worked with us and identified a service we didn’t know existed.
Humanity, compassion – and yes, the word of the moment, co-production. At the heart of those positive interactions, my husband has been treated with deep respect, with honesty and with the humanity that should form the foundation and building blocks of strong and effective public services.
This doesn’t mean that those working with us can always offer practical help or provide answers to our questions. Often, we just have to find our way through the next challenge. However, with someone at the end of the phone; with someone who has taken the time to understand our wee family, the challenges we face become more bearable.
If only that humanity was more evident in all aspects of public service; if only a desire to maximise quality of life sat squarely behind every commissioning exercise and at the heart of service and policy development.
The sad fact is that the lives of disabled people and their families are often reduced to numbers; to a unit cost in the equivalent of a factory production line. This culture is sadly too evident in the work and myriad of papers that drive the work of the still new Health and Social Care Partnerships. “Commercialisation” of public services can effectively squeeze out humanity or compassion for our fellow citizens – the criminality of charging for help to get to the toilet, to get out into your community are perfect, if somewhat disturbing, examples of this.
Like others, we have sometimes become lost in a maze of jargon, bureaucracy and confusion, deftly described by the Christie Commission seven years ago. Families are sadly still left to fight the public services which are supposed to be helping them.
In that fight, people are left exhausted and de-humanised; that was not what was envisaged in the journey to transform health, care and other services. Unfortunately, compassion and good outcomes often happen in spite of policies like integration or self directed support.
My husband and I are incredibly grateful to the many professionals who have touched our lives. They have helped us deal with dramatic changes and some dark days. Our experience should not be the exception and therein lies the challenge.
How we “measure” the humanity of public services must be considered by the Burns review of health and care outcomes; humanity should be sought in every manager and director who wants to progress their career in public service.
Humanity should be at the heart of every political decision about the services which profoundly impact on people’s lives.