On planet Zen the owners of Caged Hamster public services decided to modernise the cages.

They tried three methods. In one they gave the hamsters much more money and a strict timetable by which to improve pathways round the ladders and wheels.

In the next they asked the hamsters what they needed to achieve the same targets - and what timescales they would set themselves. The third group they left alone.

The third group kept running round the wheels and up and down the ladders in ever decreasing circles as usual and things got worse: hamsters were always sick, muddled and disillusioned.

They were fed up, as everyone on Zen agreed change was necessary and the new, hamster-focused pathways were a good idea - but they were not involved. They left the public service in droves.

The first group couldn't believe their luck: at last, money for something they wanted.

But they didn't have the time to develop new plans or methods - they were all so busy running round their wheels and ladders maintaining the service as now.

And no-one was spare to cover them for time out, nor was it possible to stop the service. They got stressed, sick, disillusioned - and left in droves.

The middle group thrived - at first. They explained all the problems associated with no time/no developed ability beyond wheel and ladder running.

They explained that they needed more than money: they needed help to develop and time to do it. But planet Zen was due an election, and needed things to happen now. Time and help wasn't available, so more money was offered alongside more targets as an incentive to ignore these real needs.

Hamsters got sick and disillusioned and left in droves.

Zen was in a state of crisis.

The election was lost. The public service was privatised and hamsters got on the wheels all over again - but, this time, competing. Planet Zen disappeared from the universe.

Shame, waste - motto? We should listen to caged hamsters.

Bernice Baker Freelance nurse consultant Horsham West Sussex