Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

NHS: The Web of Meaninglessness

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

NHS: The Web of Meaninglessness

Article excerpt

Having recently retired from the National Health Service, I thought I might soon miss the work, particularly contact with patients. But I was recently sent a circular from the NHS trust by which I was formerly employed that reminds me how little I miss the increasing managerialism of the service. It succeeds in combining fatuity with a hint of menace.

The circular, signed by the "Improving Working Lives Lead Nurse", concerned a series of meetings called 20/20 meetings. This was because they were to be held on the 20th of the month and were to last at least 20 minutes. (I can just imagine how proud the managers were of coming up with such a name, with its poetic connotation of perfect eyesight.)

The purpose of these meetings was "to engage staff in developing the core principles of our service". The meetings were to be "treated as a matter of priority" and were to occur more or less simultaneously throughout the trust; everybody was to be encouraged to attend, which in the event meant bullying them. Managers were to "reinforce the importance of the meeting" and "portray it in a positive light".

Each meeting was to begin with a manager reading a script out loud. This consisted of seven platitudes, badly or ambiguously expressed, the first of which was: "If in doubt, sort things out which are best for our patient in the first instance.' Another pearl above price was: "There is usually a better way of doing things."

One hundred and twenty doctors, among others, with approximately 3,600 years of education and training between them, were supposed to listen to these banalities and offer comments. …

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