Columnist Dr Copperfield criticises the mission statements of NHS hospitals, which promise gold-standard care at a time when they simply cannot deliver it
You know those snappy slogans/mission statements that district general hospitals feel obliged to put on their websites? If there was one that said, ‘Where better never stops’, you’d assume that it was the work of a satirical genius, right? But it’s not. It’s genuine. It’s on the website of the hospital my 92-year-old mum’s attending and I found it right next to their CQC rating, which is, ‘Needs improvement’.
Being a busy GP, this prompted me to a) laugh my head off and b) spend the next two hours trawling through other hospital slogans to see what their focus groups/ChatGPT subscriptions had come up with. Most were predictable, vacuous and nauseating variations on being dedicated and compassionate (‘In everything we do we care’), though some were so half-hearted they just thumbed through an online thesaurus and didn’t even bother trying to join the dots (‘together/safe/kind/excellent’ or ‘compassion/accountability/respect/excellence’).
For patients trying to negotiate a failing NHS, these slogans pretending to provide gold-standard care ring so hollow that they start to sound like a sick joke. As in life, it’s not what you say, but what you do that counts. And it doesn’t matter how often a slogan guarantees quality care – and nearly all do – if you’re working in a system where that’s impossible, you should stop promising it.
That probably goes for general practice, too. True, we had a fantastic but harrowing example of above-and-beyond care this week with that video of a practice in Wilmslow transporting a critically ill patient to hospital themselves. Why? Because the ambulance service didn’t appear to have the capacity to help – oh, and that’s an ambulance service whose mission statement on its website is ‘To deliver the right care at the right time in the right place, every time’.
But in trying to compensate for a failing health service, practices simply can’t keep up with this level of fire-fighting. It’s not only that we can’t get ambulances, we can’t get medication, admissions, outpatient appointments, letters, blood tests, people to pick up phones etc either. That’s not a video, it’s a feature-length film.
It’s literally reaching the point where we can’t care. Which, tragically, is only a short hop to ‘we don’t care’, because we’re burnt out from trying. And while ‘We don’t care in the community’ may end up as a mission statement of fact, it’s not where we want to be. But at least we know how the Government would sloganeer its current promises to the NHS, ‘Where better never starts’.
Dr Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of his blogs here