Monday, October 30, 2006

Tom Asacker - A Good Bloke!

Tom Asacker is one of my good friends in the US and he been described by none other than Tom Peters as a ‘Marketing Guru.’

Tom Asacker has a great Blog called ‘A Clear Eye for Branding’ which contains a hilarious weekly feature called GuruBBQ – a tongue in cheek and funny ‘side swipe’ from Tom at pretentiousness in the business world. Click here to see the ‘GuruBBQ.’

Tom’s Blog contains great advice – click here to read his Blog and please pass it on to your contacts.

Apart from being a ‘Marketing guru’- Tom’s greatest quality is that he is a really nice bloke!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mysterious Creatures

Timothy Spall
Brenda Blethyn
For as long as I can remember I have had a passion for highlighting the needs of carers (care-givers as known in the US)

These are the people (about 7 million on the UK) who give their love and time to family members, relatives or friends who are ill and in need of support.

Carers have been described by some as the ‘invisible army’ of uncomplaining people who provide their care from a sense of duty, obligation and love. It is always unpaid work and usually a 24 hours a day 7 days a week commitment and is generally un-noticed by the rest of the population.

Tonight (Sunday) Annie and I watched on TV a fantastic and moving drama called Mysterious Creatures.
This tells the true story of two parents driven to a suicide pact because of the stress caused by looking after their ill daughter for 24 years with little effective help from the various agencies involved. The father died and the mother survived the suicide attempt. Click here for latest information

This drama in my opinion should be compulsory watching for all NHS and Social Services Managers.

It portrays the ‘helplessness’ carers often face when they are left alone to deal with terrible situations that sadly are experienced by millions of carers in the UK every day.

Timothy Spall and Brenda Blethyn played (brilliantly in my opinion) the parents who were the carers and the message they managed to portray was as powerful as anything I have seen about the plight of carers in 35 years working in the NHS.

I hope this programme will raise the awareness among the population about the needs of carers.

The needs of patients, of course, must always come first – but the needs of carers are paramount and if we do not invest in supporting carers we are surely just burying our heads in the sand.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Aneurin Bevan (pictured) would turn in his grave

In my opinion and indeed in my working experience one of the most distressing things about our welfare state is how older people towards the end of their lives have to sell their home to pay for their care in private nursing homes or residential care homes.

I think this is scandalous.

I imagine the scene in 1948 when these people were young men and young women and had just fought a 6 year World War.

They were told by the politicians of the day that following the creation of the National Health Service;

‘Poverty will no longer be a disadvantage or wealth an advantage. All health care will be free to all’

Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960) was the Minister of Health in 1948 and used these words to describe the birth of the new National Health Service and I am sure Mr Bevan, a passionate and committed Labour MP, believed and meant this with every last drop of his considerable passion for the NHS.

So here we are almost 60 years later and those young people who are now in the autumn of their lives, see their bank balances rapidly dropping as they pay anything up to £1000 per week for their care.

I have met many such people in my career and also their carers. They are just not interested in hearing subtle and complex reasons why politicians, health and social care managers argue between themselves about whether certain medical condition merit ‘free’ NHS care or ‘means tested’ Social Care.

What really matters to those older people is the promise of politicians 60 years ago – albeit well intentioned. Is there any wonder the population is cynical about politics and politicians when the most vulnerable, the most fragile and weakest in our society are taken advantage of in such an appalling way?

The other issue it brings to my mind is that we need to think very seriously about promises made in 2006 by politicians.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sock it to the NHS!

As I get back into the swing of work following our wedding I am delighted to see the NHS finally getting to grips with the really important stuff.

A report emerged today (click here for details) how the Board of Directors of one NHS organisation is spending time discussing the crucial topic of whether or not to ban NHS staff wearing novelty socks.

In all my years in the NHS I often said we were far too ‘uptight’ and if anyone wanted a good laugh it was seen by some as showing a lack of professionalism.

Caring for people who are sick demands the greatest professionalism - that goes without saying. I have always said that high standards of professionalism are not undermined by having the occasional bit of light relief.

Healthcare is a serious topic and I am not for one nanosecond suggesting we should ever be flippant at work in the NHS … but come on … we cannot afford to see Board members getting involved is what socks the staff wear whilst waiting lists lengthen and overspends increase day by day!!!!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Besty immortalised.

George Best's father Dickie looks at a print of the banknote at its launch in Belfast.

Almost a year on from his sad death (was it really that long ago?) the immortal George Best has been given the honour of having his picture on one million commemorative £5 bank notes. Click here for more

What a fabulous tribute to one of my all time heroes.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More pictures of our Wedding

To view our online Gallery click here or on the photo above

Monday, October 23, 2006

Paul Scholes - a perfect role model for football

One of my favorite footballers of all time, Paul Scholes, yesterday played his 500th match for my team Manchester United.

'Scholesy' as he is affectionately known by all Man United fans, epitomizes for me everything good about professional football and about getting the priorities right. He never seeks publicity, in fact, he positively avoids it.

That does not mean Paul is not passionate about what he does as can be seen in the picture (above) after scoring the first goal in a 2-0 win for Man United yesterday over old rivals Liverpool. Click here for report

He has often been quoted as saying he is only interested in playing football for Manchester United, doing the job he paid for, and then going home to his family. He recently retired from international football for England (more’s the pity) because he wants to devote time to his family.

We live in a time when many very well paid (many would say overpaid) footballers seem to seek publicity and the bright lights lifestyle. These types act and live the lifestyle of celebrities to the full and that of course is a choice they make individually. That choice brings with it the personal responsibility for the image created and the flack such footballers receive from the media when things go ‘pear shaped’ in their celebrity lifestyle.

I think it is wonderful to see a role model like Paul Scholes emerge. To me Scholesy PROVES that a footballer who does not want to attract publicity can achieve that. It follows in my opinion that those footballers who get publicity must SEEK it. Avoiding or attracting publicity is a DECISION in other words. Paul Scholes has proved that.

Long live Paul Scholes as a Manchester United player. He has been loyal to United - his only club since he was in his early teens and now at 31 he obviously still loves it just as much as he always has.

He just wants to play football and care for his family – well done Scholesy - simplicity personified

Friday, October 20, 2006

An unforgettable day

Annie and I had a wonderful day last Saturday when we were married in the presence of our friends and family and of course, God.

It was a terrific day and many memories will stay with us forever. More photos will be posted on this Blog and the Simplicity Gallery soon.

We both enjoyed the day enormously and it feels brilliant to be Mr and Mrs Gay at last.

Just one small hiccup …. Those who know me well will not be surprised by this …

I arrived, as scheduled, at 2.30 pm at the Church with a sort of nagging feeling I had forgotten something but the rings were safe in the pocket of the Best Man. As I got out of the car my heart pounded as I realised I had left the Laptop computer in the boot of my car back at the hotel. Ooops!! The laptop was loaded with a presentation to be projected on the wall – photos and words of hymns etc.,

Thanks to my brother-in-law Rick who broke speed limits and jumped a couple of traffic lights, the Laptop arrived 30 seconds before Annie walked in looking beautiful and it was as if there had been no problem at all.

Thank you again God I love your sense of humour too :-)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Tomorrow - A Very Special Day.

Tomorrow Saturday 14th October at 3 pm, Annie and I will be married in our local Church.

I can assure you’re the picture above is NOT our wedding rehearsal …. Although it was in our local Church where we will be married tomorrow. No, this was a piece of drama we performed recently in a normal (did I really say normal??!!) Sunday service.

Tomorrow I promise I will be in a suit and Annie will not have her turban on.

We have had many wonderful e-mails offering congratulations and we thank you for them.

All the preparations are now ready …we think!

Simplicity Blog will be back on Thursday 19th October

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Excellence? - What Excellence?

Tom Peters famous best selling management book published in 1982 was called 'In Search of Excellence.'

That book began a quest for excellence in the business and corporate world and ‘excellence’ became a fashionable, some would say, 'jargon' word.

Today’s report about the performance of the 570 NHS organisations tells us that only 2 (0.003%) of them have achieved the standard of ‘excellence’ in both finance and quality. Click here for more details

Many factors are taken into account before arriving at the assessment of performance of NHS Trusts and as always, there is not a ‘one bullet solution’ to the many problems of the NHS.

I worked for 35 years as a manager in the NHS until two years and I suggest that the biggest single problem is leadership that has its priorities wrong.

The dedication and hard work of staff in the NHS is legendary and in order to motivate those people top class leadership is required. Sad to say in my experience the leadership is usually more concerned about meeting targets and balancing budgets than the welfare of their staff and therein is the problem.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Alzheimer's Disease - to treat or not to treat?

We hear today that a decision has been made not to approve the prescribing of some new drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease. Click here for details

We all know that the NHS is cash strapped and we all know there are priorities that must be funded. The process for approving drugs goes through the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. We all know that not all drugs are affordable.

That is the ‘official’ and the ‘political’ line and I am certainly not qualified to comment on the medical aspects of this drug.

Alzheimer's disease is something that affects an estimated 750,000 patients in the UK. Their stressed and exhausted carers often suffer as much – if not more than the patient!

How to agree priorities will always be the biggest challenge faced by the NHS and I do not have magic bullet answers.

Our individual priorities will vary and probably influenced by personal or family experience of poor health.

I would like to see Alzheimer's disease given a higher priority and if it comes to choice between closure of under-used hospitals and spending more money on older people suffering from Alzheimer's disease them my money will go on treating people suffering from Alzheimer's disease …. But I accept this is not an easy decision for the NHS.

Surely we owe this to the older people in our population.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mental Health - out from the shadows?

I have both a personal and professional interest in mental health.

If I can be a bit presumptuous I actually think we all should have a personal interest in the subject.

Once upon a time, at a particularly low point in my life, I suffered serious clinical depression. I am happy to say I recovered fully. I also spent 10 years of my NHS career as a manager in mental health services.

I have, for many years, supported all campaigns calling for more understanding from employers about the challenges faced by people with mental health problems. I am delighted therefore to read today about new initiatives (click here) that will encourage employers to take steps to understand mental health and the effects of stress and depression for their staff.

As a society it seems we have no problems talking about physical illness and employers are, generally speaking, very sympathetic about something ‘they can see’ or they can relate to. I am not sure that same understanding is always present when employees suffer mental health problems such as depression.

As I have said before on my Blog I am encouraged when I see people like Robbie Williams, John Cleese, Sir Winston Churchill, Stephen Fry and Tom Peters openly talking about the challenge of depression. They are all successful people and it reminds us that mental health problems are not discriminatory. People who ‘apparently’ have 'everything' suffer as do people who 'apparently' have significantly less.

I hope these latest initiatives help those who struggle with the ever present threat of depression. When we examine the statistics it is scary – 1 in 4 of the population will suffer mental health problems at some point in our lives. That is a massive issue that merits greater understanding.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Lennon's birthday

Just a thought ....

One of my all time heroes, John Lennon, would have been 66 years old today 9th October.

Incredible to think it was 26 years ago when he was so brutally murdered at the tender age of 40.

I often wonder what impact he would have had on the world had he lived.

Town Centres - Closing Down?

As the traditional ‘sales transaction’ dramatically changes I cannot help but wonder …. What is the future of the traditional town centre?

In my childhood and until today the town centre has generally been the place where the shops are and where we go to buy things.

As more of my purchasing is now done ‘online’ through the internet I wonder about the implications of all this.

I think to myself – why should I spend money driving to the town centre, pay for the privilege of parking my car, walk in the cold and the rain into shops where the staff are not always the most helpful and give them my money?

The alternative is to sit in warmth and comfort of my home and whenever I find the time in any 24 hour period simply select my goods and pay for them online – usually receiving the goods within a day or two and usually cheaper than I can buy in town centre shops even taking into account delivery charges.

Am I the only person wondering about this massive shift of power to the customer?

My own view of the town centre of the future is not a place we go to shop. It therefore offers planners some ‘blue sky opportunities’ for those creative people to ‘re-imagine’ town centres and turn them into places where local people and visitors actually WANT to go to enjoy either learning or cultural opportunities.

Nice to just take time to contemplate things sometimes ….

Maybe I will re-visit this posting in the 20 years and report what a town centre looks like in 2026. Any suggestions?.....

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Just go bald gracefully

When I was in my twenties and my hair began to recede I was very concerned. That come with the territory when we are young I guess.

By the time I got to my late twenties it was no longer an issue for me and I grew balder gracefully!

Today I read the Government is backing something valled 'baldness therapy' – my simple question is ...... Why?

I recognise that many men may find it a struggle to come to terms with losing their hair but while the world stands by and watches 20,000 people die every day – mainly children – due to poverty, it really is stretching a point to understand why we place so much priority on what I would describe as cosmetic issues.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Well done Scotland!

What a fantastic result for Scotland with a 1-0 victory over France in the European Championship qualifying match.

I am English and very proud of it and I don't go along with the idea that we English should only root for England.

Scotland deserves our support as part of the UK and I think it was a fabulous achievement for the Scots to triumph over France who are arguably the best football team in the world.

It is a shame that England – who drew 0-0 with Macedonia - could not reproduce the good form they have shown in the previous three matches they have played.

Today it is the turn of Scotland to deservedly earn all the plaudits and I hope they qualify for the finals in 2008.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mr Cameron - NHS Safe in your hands? ... Mmmm not sure ...

Nice to hear Conservative leader David Cameron making all the right noises about his plans for the NHS whilst he is in opposition. Click here for details

I will reserve my judgment about his plans based on my own experience and recollections of the record of the Conservative Party and the NHS.

It is often conveniently overlook by Conservatives that the Party was violently opposed to the creation of the NHS. In numerous House of Commons debates the Conservatives voted time and again against setting up a free National Health Service before it was finally introduced by the Labour Government of 1948.

Shame also that Mr Cameron forgets to mention the most radical disruption ever to the NHS was under the Tories and Mrs Thatcher who almost destroyed the NHS in the 1980’s - a period that saw healthcare professional groups fighting among one another as anarchy ruled.

I have always been someone who believes leopards should be given a chance to change their spots but I need convincing the NHS would in fact be safe in Conservative hands.

There have already been murmurings behind the scenes from Mr Cameron’s cronies that under a future Conservative Government there would be no limit to privatisation of the NHS.

Since 1997 whether we accept it or not there has been more money than ever before ploughed into the NHS by Mr Blair’s Government. If there is anything wrong with the NHS then we need to look at how that money has been spent by managers rather than blame the Government for lack of investment

I think Mr Cameron’s plans will go on the ‘back burner’ anyway because the Conservatives will I suspect shoot themselves in the foot before the next General Election.

They will probably fail to be elected for a fourth successive Election even though the Labour Party, by its appalling treatment of Tony Blair, is trying really hard to give the control of our Country to the Conservatives.

We will see.

99.9% success is not good enough!

Horrifying as it may seem there are a number of cases every year in the NHS where patients have operations on the wrong part of their body.

The latest report says that 40 patients had this misfortune last year and while the Department of Health may tell us these are not high numbers, considering the millions of successful operations that take place, it is a significant increase on previous years.

Most of all it is tragic for the patients involved and it just unacceptable however we try to defend it.

What this reminds us is that any system - however carefully developed and checked - depends on human beings and as a consequence there will always be errors.

It is just not acceptable that patients suffer in this way and we have to do something about it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Smoking Kills

It is early days but in Italy the research seems to confirm what most of us know intuitively. Smoking kills people who smoke AND those in the company of smokers.

I speak as an ex-smoker (I gave up almost 3 years ago) and I have sympathy for smokers who find it difficult to give up the habit.

The early evidence from Italy about their public smoking ban indicates a significant drop in heart attacks.

When I think seriously about it, I used to do the equivalent of taking a five pound note out of my wallet and set fire to it every day. Not only that I inhaled the smoke - I know it sounds crazy!

Apart from the significant cost it was a habit that was killing me before my time was due.

Having said that I recognise the challenge of giving up and it is not easy.

I hope in my lifetime we see a ban on smoking in the UK – it may be the only way to wipe it out completely.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mr Gandhi got it right!

Mahatma Gandhi - Bombay Hospital Motto
I enjoyed speaking at a National Conference in Glasgow, Scotland last week.

The two day conference was hosted by the
Scottish Primary Care Collaborative

About 200 NHS professionals were brought together to share good practice in Primary Care and I was asked to speak on how patient involvement can lead to change in healthcare services.

The talk was well received and it was great to see and hear the enthusiasm of the delegates and their willingness to welcome the patients’ input to improving services.

Although I am often critical that progress is slow within the NHS to involve patients more I never ‘blame’ the NHS front line clinical staff for this slow pace of change.

What is clearly needed is leadership from the top about this with Chief Executives showing by example that patients – the customers – are the reason we have jobs in the NHS.

If a simple reminder is ever needed about the role of staff working in the NHS this is it. I always use the Bombay Hospital Motto written by Mahatma Gandhi in my talks.

I have published this on my Blog before and I make know apologies for re-producing it again. Healthcare is not about complex management processes policies and procedures, it is about caring for people.

Please excuse the male emphasis as political correctness was not around when Mr Gandhi wrote this ….

'Bombay Hospital Motto

A patient is the most important person in our Hospital. He is not an interruption to our work, he is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our Hospital, he is a part of it. We are not doing a favour by serving him, he is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.'

Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Black Dog can be tamed

A good friend suffered a breakdown a few years ago.

At that time he worked as deputy Chief Finance Officer in a multi-million pound health service organisation. He was off work for several months and the general opinion among the ‘chattering classes’ in healthcare was that this was the end of his career and he would never reach the supposed ‘pinnacle’ in NHS finance of Chief Financial Officer.

Doubts were expressed whether he was ‘strong enough’ to reach the ‘top’ job.

The great news is not only did he return to work after a long spell of recuperation but he also reached that exalted position of Chief Financial Officer in another health service organisation. He is now enjoying a well earned retirement.

There are many issues arising out of this.

  • Mental health problems are non discriminatory – we are all susceptible to mental health problems.
  • Why do so many ‘macho school’ managers believe mental health problems in some way mean you are ‘soft’ if you are affected by them?
  • People who suffer mental health problems recover just like we recover from any illness.
  • To allow work to adversely affect our mental health in a negative way is not worth it. Life is about many things and work is just one of those things.
  • Sometimes it is better to just leave if you are suffering in that way, however difficult that may seem when we have bills to pay.

Mental health problems range from being sad through to problems that require hospital in-patient treatment. Depression is the single most well known mental health problem and when we look at the rich and famous who admit to suffering depression we see Sir Winston Churchill, Robbie Williams, John Cleese and Tom Peters to name but a few.

It illustrates, to me anyway, that people can still ‘perform’ at an amazingly high level professionally, despite occasionally being visited by the ‘Black Dog’ as Sir Winston famously called depression.

Logically therefore the same thing applies to us lesser mortals like my friend.

Instead of avoiding the subject or having stereotyped negative views about mental health problems, wouldn’t it be great if business could set an example and be positive about firstly accepting that many managers suffer from depression and other mental heath problems than to implicitly signpost those people as failures, soft or unable to reach the top?