Left to right: Professor Anne Scott, School of Nursing, Dublin City University; Alice Leahy, Director and Co-Founder of Trust; Ms Yvonne O’Shea, Chief Executive Officer, National Council for Progessional Development of Nursing and Midwifery; Dr. Sheelagh Ryan, Chief Officer, Western Region, Health Service Executive, Merlin Park, Galway; Ms Mary Courtney, Director, Nursing & Midwiferty Planning & Development Unit, Western Region, Health Service Executive, Merlin Park Regional Hospital, Galway

“Wasting time with people” is how health professionals who take time to care properly for their patients are made to feel in a health service dominated by a management philosophy based on performance indicators, benchmarks and other business tools more suitable for use in managing the production of widgets,” ALICE LEAHY, Director and Co-Founder of TRUST said today (Thursday, February 24, 2005) at a seminar in Galway organised by the Nursing & Midwifery Planning & Development Unit on the theme of Sharing Best Practice.

“Pouring more resources into the health service without reforming management thinking will not succeed unless a philosophy of caring is given appropriate recognition and people are treated as people,” ALICE LEAHY said.

If we want change and a more caring society that will make everyone feel welcome especially the outsiders we must change our thinking and in health services terms that means real reform of the management philosophy which must be replaced by a culture of caring she said.

“Undervaluing human contact and front line care must stop. It is intangible. It is not easily measured. However, the consequences of the failure of the current management philosophy as now applied across the board has made life much tougher for the outsiders in our midst and the taxpayer has got a bad deal. A philosophy of caring is good for people but is also the most economic in the long-term. We would argue for it even if it was more expensive but the evidence available suggests the opposite is the case and an even greater irony is that the current management philosophy which is supposed to expose inefficiency has done a very good job covering up its own inadequacies,” ALICE LEAHY said.

ALICE LEAHY went on: “Ray a fifty year old man who has been homeless for several years described his experience in search of treatment which underlines this point: “They don’t see you now, they examine you on the computer and give you a piece of paper, then you leave.” If people have deep psychological problems and cannot cope when they seek help just processing them like an inanimate object will only ensure they drift from one service to another never getting help and costing the State even more money! Taking time may appear “expensive” in the short term but if we want to end the cycle of alienation and exclusion that produces outsiders on our streets and even among service providers, we must encourage a culture of caring not only in our health service but in society as a whole.”

In the health service this will require a real commitment from senior management ALICE LEAHY said because they must be prepared to experience first hand what it is like in a front line caring role: “Until those in positions of power are prepared to sit with people in their misery and poverty, feel their pain, smell the smell of human misery and waste, feel the trembling body and listen to the cries of frustration rather than looking at statistics in neat boxes with grandiose titles nothing will change. If they cannot do it they should listen to those who do everyday or the poor will continue to suffer pain and those of us working with them are left with the feeling we are only adding to their misery through our silence. To speak out means exclusion, no promotion and a lonely existence – a situation that a philosophy of caring would simply prohibit and make impossible.”

“The language of the current management philosophy – performance indicators, benchmarks, etc. is now part and parcel of the assessment procedures for grant aid and ensures that those very vulnerable people in most need of understanding, care and time will tend not to get it because taking time with people, an essential part of a caring culture is perceived as uneconomic. However, what those so far removed from the frontline fail to understand is that you cannot help people without taking time, and the system ironically becomes more “uneconomic” as people can tend to end up like refugees inside the system being constantly referred from one service to another.

“A culture of caring should be the only measure of best practice as we found in our work if we are seriously interested in treating people as people and not as mere statistics,” Alice Leahy said.