Prudent healthcare is a big idea, or it is nothing.
But big ideas are not always welcome in public policy – they tend to disrupt ‘business as usual’. While we are spending our precious, finite thinking time on what the big idea really means, we might just neglect all those other equally vital, but more pressing, objectives, like safer care and balancing the books… And anyway, big ideas come and go, don’t they?
Public services know how to deal with latest Ministerial big ideas. The time-honoured approach is to thank the Minister profusely for providing vital new direction and insight, talk about it a lot in conferences organised for that purpose, include the new catch-phrases in every possible document… then re-badge all the things you were doing already using the new label, and get back to the day job.
But before health boards and trusts kill off prudent healthcare in this way, let’s just recognise that its three key planks cannot just be swallowed up into business as usual.
First, a prudent healthcare system will really empower people to maximise their own wellbeing, often recognising that that there are no clinical fixes. Chronic conditions are often, by definition, incurable, and good healthcare is about helping people to minimise their impact on what matters most to them in their lives. So people with chronic conditions – most of our patients – should routinely be offered a wide menu of support, from information and skills training, to individual and peer group support, often provided by the third sector, so that they can find things which work for them. Choice and diversity here are vital – one size will not fit all.
Second, when it comes to clinical intervention, prudent healthcare depends on patients really choosing what’s best for them. That means finding new ways of supporting patients really to think through what would be best for them, and creating the expectation that they will often say “No”. And if they say “No”, we have to have alternatives to offer them (see above).
Third, it means re-defining what good care means. Under prudent healthcare, the key issue is what patients think about their care, not as they leave the hospital, but months down the line. A perfect operation which the patient wishes they hadn’t had two years later, is a huge waste of time and effort, on so many counts.
So … All we need, then, is a whole new swathe of non-clinical service provision, supported but not provided by the NHS; a re-thinking of the clinical encounter, with new systems to support that; and a new way of measuring our performance, with patient-defined and reported outcome measures routinely collected and compared on thousands of clinical interventions.
That’s not ‘business as usual’.
We need to hear the managerial squealing of brakes across NHS Wales, as our leaders realise that this is big change, fit for a big idea, requiring a new direction.
Marcus Longley is Director of the Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care and Professor of Applied Health Policy