The motives behind NHS Change Day are admirable, but the event is devalued by pledges to do things that should be happening already and the cynicism they attract, says Partha Kar

Patient and health worker smiling at each other

Last week I tweeted out my bemusement at some of the tweets I was reading with regards to NHS Change Day – and it launched an avalanche of tweets with supporters and sceptics joining in equal measure.

I will be honest, I have made a pledge for Change Day. The reason I decided to make a pledge was for two reasons: first, Pollyanna Jones asked me – I know her from work I have done previously and she has a genuine desire to improve patient care. In my book, if someone like that asks, it’s good enough for me.

‘NHS Change Day is an occasion where you should pledge to do something beyond the norm’

Second, a blog by Roy Lilley. I know Roy and am aware he polarises opinion but I do know that it takes something extraordinary to break that curmudgeonly cynical heart… a few weeks back, he had thrown his weight behind the movement and I was in.

Other people involved – such as Natalie Silvey and Damian Roland – I don’t know much about. Damian mentions some kind words in his blog about me – but believe you me, I am nowhere near “pretty awesome” but beyond I do try and improve patient care as best as I can.

NHS Change Day is an occasion where you should pledge to do something that is beyond the norm. Then I read pledges such as “pledge to ensure safe care”, “ensure equality in workplace”, and something broader became clear.

Beyond the norm

The same issue has also created cynics about campaigns such as the 6Cs or #hellomynameis. Have we got that isolated or insulated at work, has it all become so unbearable that we now have to pledge to be compassionate, pledge to say “thank you”, pledge to “treat each patient as a member of my family”?

If that’s where the health system has got to – and perhaps the Francis report does allude to that – then thank goodness we have even got Change Day to reiterate to folks what they should be doing already. Saying thank you to staff, not tolerating discrimination and not tolerating bullying should be an ingrained aspect of being a human being, let alone an NHS employee.

‘To counter the cynics create some outcomes, some tangible benefits’

The good thing is that the day is driven by the grassroots (though some cynics oppose even that). There are also some absolutely brilliant pledges: a chief executive planning to read bedtime stories to the kids or another pledging to daily visit patients who have no family. These are heart warming, outside what they need to do and outside what they are paid to do. They are brilliant gestures for which I have nothing but utmost respect.

Outcomes over euphoria

To the organisers of Change Day, you need a bit of cautious optimism. Don’t let the event be hijacked by people jumping on the bandwagon with pledges that raise questions along the lines of: “What have you been doing so long?”

And to counter the cynics? Create some outcomes, some tangible benefits, otherwise it is just a social movement that looks amazing online but less so in the vast expanse out there? Another nametag to add to the multiple initiatives. Don’t allow cynicism to build and allow everyone to see benefits of such a great cause. Ask people to pledge and say it as if the mean it, not to jump on to the bandwagon. Don’t let people repackage old wine in new bottles.

The NHS needs a boost of optimism and to showcase its hope and optimism – we all know it.

Pollyanna, Damian, Natalie et al? This is your project, own it and I wish you all the best for it too. However, let the euphoria be tempered by its eventual outcomes because otherwise, in the words of the great Canadian physician Sir William Osler, “the philosophies of one age become the absurdities of the next.. and the foolishness of yesterday has become the wisdom of tomorrow”.

Partha Kar is a consultant in diabetes and blogger