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Is our own Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt damaging the psychological wellbeing of NHS staff?

I have been thinking a lot this week about how midwives may be over compensating for the fact that historically, they may have been unfairly held accountable for poor outcomes in childbirth. In fact I have just submitted a paper about it (hence lack of blog posts)!

Watching social media news this week, my paper seemingly came to life in reality! – The Times Newspaper published new facts, figures and commentary blaming the UK’s comparatively high level of stillbirths and perinatal deaths squarely on the NHS and midwifery care.

Cathy Warwick (Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives) responded… “When I read this article in The Times last Wednesday, and the newspaper’s accompanying editorial, I just felt angry”.

These articles explained that the annual bill for NHS negligence in pregnancy has reached £1 billion after more than 1,300 babies were killed or maimed last year. – Strong words and statistics indeed.

Following these articles…. I watched a torrent of complaints rain down upon these articles. Midwifery was again accused of being ‘Faddish’ in its pursuit of natural childbirth.

Has this reignited professional turf wars? the fear of natural childbirth? and the historical distrust of midwives?

It has certainly done nothing to promote healthy professional cultures.

“Perhaps the secretary of state will step in to make this right?” I thought hopefully…

And then he tweeted this….”Shocking that 1300 babies killed or harmed during childbirth last year: we must go further&faster to make the NHS the safest system globally”
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) June 10, 2015

Is our own Secretary of State damaging the psychological wellbeing of NHS staff?

We already know that healthier staff mean healthier patients… these comments do nothing to facilitate a healthy workforce. In fact, we have to wonder whether they may be actually psychologically damaging to NHS staff.

If staff are not afforded the healthy experiences of attachment, containment, communication, inclusion and agency within any organization, this can result in unhealthy, or frankly toxic, psycho social environments (Haigh, 2013) .

Are these statements in the media conducive to creating therapeutic a environment/relationship with the NHS?

If not, then we must consider whether they may create a toxic environment/relationship which may actually inhibit effective patient care.

I do not see anything coming from our own secretary of State to facilitate a healthy relationship with NHS staff, in fact, I believe this may enforce further hostilities between the public, the NHS and our own leadership. A sad step backwards for progress.

In my opinion….The very words “Killed” & “Maimed” imply that horrendous actions have taken place deliberately, when in fact we know that the vast majority of NHS staff do not go to work to intentionally be poor practitioners, make mistakes and fall below expected standards (Denham, 2007).

This brings us back to the key principle that better staff experiences are associated with better outcomes for patients.

Does Jeremy Hunt believe that he is creating positive staff experiences with his words through tough love? Are his comments meant to shock the NHS staff into not Killing babies???…

No, because NHS staff do not go to work to do this. They go to work to make a difference and achieve something wonderful.

The NHS often has to deal with the fallout and consequences of wider government decision-making, and this is no different. Nobody wants to see mothers and babies put at risk and experience a poor obstetric outcome. Everyone is saddened for these 1300 babies.

Cathy Warwick has confirmed that the true reason for the UK’s comparatively high level of stillbirths, is related to other deep seated issues in the UK such as social deprivation, social, and health inequalities. This is a challenge for us all to come together to address. Mud slinging, blaming, naming and shaming really have no place in achieving better outcomes for mothers and babies… and I hope my next paper will encourage further conversations to address this.

Continuing to repeat the false message that NHS staff are ‘bad’ ‘wicked’ baby killers does not fulfill any area of public interest at any level. Furthering this conversation will only galvanize fear and misunderstanding.

Let us create a new conversation in partnership with each other.

We are on the same team.

(Fingers crossed that this paper is excepted for publication please)!!!

Denham C. (2007) ‘TRUST: the 5 rights of the second victim’. Journal of Patient Safety. 3(2) 107-119

Haigh, R. (2013) ‘The quintessence of a therapeutic environment’, Therapeutic Communities: The International Journal of Therapeutic Communities, 34 (1): 6 – 15.

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