At this year’s Rendle Short Lecture during the CMF National Conference, Dr Tim Lyttle (a GP and social entrepreneur in the Midlands and Northwest) threw out a challenge to CMF and its members to re-engage with the human dimension of medicine.
In a moving and honest address, Dr Lyttle shared from his own experiences of how work in the NHS can be damaging to our health, life balance and sense of care for our patients. In an environment where change is happening faster than ever before, and where systems are replacing relationships, he referenced the moving video testimony of Professor Kieran Sweeney, an expert on primary care and a senior lecturer and honorary professor of general practice at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in Plymouth. Prof. Sweeney was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma at the age of 57 and died at home with his family on Christmas Eve 2009, but it in his last few months he shared on video a moving testimony of his interactions with the NHS staff and systems that cared for him in his last year of life. His reflections are summed up in a simple quote ‘medicine is not solely a technical activity and pursuit. It is about understanding and being with people at the edge of the human predicament.’
The challenges facing the NHS are myriad. Huge changes in medical science and in epidemiology as chronic non-communicable diseases become vastly more prevalent. We face a massive reorganisation in how care is commissioned and delivered, alongside financial austerity after nearly a decade of massive investment. The NHS workforce feels increasingly stressed and unable to care in the face of these challenges. Dr Lyttle concludes that there is, more than ever, a need for visionary, prophetic and Christ-like leadership in the NHS to:
- Stop, step back from frantic activity and rethink how and why we care
- Reflect: are we more concerned that what we can do to patients that working with patients to focus on self-care, encouraging them to use their innate, God given capacities to maintain their own, good health?
- Invest in building ‘health capital’ into our communities
- Recognise that health is complex, not complicated – like all aspects of human existence is eschews simplistic, mechanistic solutions.
- Refocus from high technology treatments to care and support in the community – prevention rather than cure.
- Address the huge social inequalities in healthcare
- Above all to unleash an ‘avalanche of compassion’ in the NHS
Dr Lyttle’s talk can be downloaded from the CMF website – video and iTunes versions will be available shortly.