I was heading home after a 72-hour turnaround trip to Vancouver, courtesy of the province of Ontario. My brief was to report on the state of the NHS.
And by the way, from Ontario the NHS looks pretty good. I had a streaming cold and had managed to get no further than the airport hotel. Three hours into the flight, the plane had moved nowhere. The engine cowling was off and two men were standing on the wing. Bear in mind, this was the day after "brace yourself for impact" had been transformed from the worst chat-up line ever to the heroic final command from Captain "Sully" Sulenberger as his stricken plane plunged into the Hudson river.
Nine hours later, I was still celebrating my own version of red nose day as the pilot made a perfect touchdown in Amsterdam. Not that I would have noticed. My head was so full I could have been at the bottom of the Amstel river. It was a serious bout of man-flu. It was also 3am Canada time and exactly six minutes after my connecting flight to Manchester had taken off. Muttering faint hearted thanks and lifelong allegiance to KLM, I staggered off the plane to find, as instructed, a freestanding, touch screen check-in terminal. Without much expectation, I slid my passport under the bar code reader. Lo and behold, I was already booked on to the next available flight. After a few prods and pokes, I had transferred to an even earlier flight to Birmingham. I quickly sent a text to my waiting wife and advised her to head south on the M6. Back, by return, came a cheery message and five kisses. I grabbed a few Euros from a nearby hole in the wall and headed for a coffee shop.
NHS IT musings
As the crema topped, double espresso hit the spot and both my Eustachian tubes cleared simultaneously, I felt back in control. Why, I mused, cannot every NHS patient enjoy the same brilliant IT systems of the airlines, banks and phone networks? As I boarded the Birmingham flight, I picked up a copy of the Financial Times. Financial meltdown, I read, was tearing at the profits and even threatening the very survival of the airlines, banks and phone companies. In the immortal words of room service to the prematurely retired George Best and the scantily clad former Miss World, "Where did it all go wrong?" I fell asleep with a faint smile on my face and a growing pile of tissues on the tray table.
The previously mentioned, hard driving spouse was smiling a welcome at Birmingham and had the good grace to wait until the next day to show me a letter to her from a local outpatient clinic. In at least three different fonts, reminiscent of Readers Digest circa 1989, it advised her that the outpatient appointment she had already had successfully had been cancelled and she was booked into one three days later that was already two days ago. Oh dear me, the letter was headed Heart of England Foundation Trust.
I was concerned and quickly checked our marriage vows. Fortunately such a failure only affected performance ratings if it occurred in three consecutive quarters. My five kisses status remained intact. And more importantly our replacement IT system, only partially implemented, has already improved many outpatient department booking functions. We bought it years ago. For a long time it was deemed an "unacceptable" system.
Connecting for Health: 'Where did it all go wrong?' or 'Brace yourself for impact'? Billions wasted or the beginning of something impressive? Progress here shows promise. Almost all local GPs are connected to the hospital systems. There is a fierce in-house resistance, facilitated by foundation status, to marching in time to the music. This has allowed locally talented IT technicians working with various clinical enthusiasts to produce some unique systems. Splicing these together with the best of what is out there, either off the shelf or within Connecting for Health, is reaching the point where some specialties can manage without paper records. We believe a paperless hospital is in sight.
Here is my advice to Connecting for Health. Do the most difficult thing - step back and stop meddling. Show the hardest leadership skill of all, become a follower. Everyone, young and old, knows the power of the internet. Take courage, release the talent within the system and sit back and take the glory.