Life during The Pause

Those readers of a particular vintage may remember the late (and much lamented) Channel 4 comedy ‘Drop the Dead Donkey’. Set in the fictional Globelink Newsroom, it laid much weight on its topicality. Much of it was filmed on the same day as it was broadcast, and during rehearsals the actors would stride through the newsroom declaiming “Topical News Item number 1” or similar. This meant that whatever hit the news in the wee hours before broadcast could be slotted in.

Those of us following the discussion on the proposed NHS reforms in England could be excused for experiencing a ‘Dead Donkey’ moment or two. Since the Government’s pause for reflection and listening began in April, the debate has flowed fast and furious. Professional bodies, Thinktanks, academics, politicians of all shades and health staff aplenty have voiced their views across a variety of media. The Guardian has even been running a daily NHS Reforms blog, which over the last few weeks has barely kept pace with the sometimes minutes by minute changes in what the hot issues and emerging conclusions are. Apparently perceptive and robust postings by reliable commentators seem only days later to be significantly off the pace.

On one hand, as a self-confessed policy geek, this ebb and flow been fascinating and I’ve devoured the debate. At the same time, I’m acutely conscious that the outcome of all this has significant personal and professional implications for myself, the people I share an office and work with, and countless people throughout NHS England. It’s serious and unsettling stuff. This time next year – and even earlier – many of us may not be working in or for healthcare.

Many of the Reforms are already happening, even during The Pause. I’m working with enthusiastic and passionate GPs in a Pathfinder Consortium. The task we all face is daunting; futures to plan, and the £20 billion Nicholson Challenge to deliver.

But in the meantime, a lot remains unchanged and apparently unaffected. Patients are still seen, assessed, diagnosed and treated. People get better, some people don’t. Caring goes on. Services are delivered, developed, improved, changed and ended. All the things that brought me and many like me into health continue to happen.

So, as the time of reflection draws to a close, we wait to see what happens. The only certainty I can see is that whatever is being written now about the NHS is probably already out of date.

Written by Dr Paul Worthington, Hereford Primary Care Trust and WIHSC Associate

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