“Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility.”
‘It’s not my fault.’
‘It’s not fair.’
‘I want that.’
‘Why should they get that when I can’t?’
Responsibility – one of those words with which no one much wants to associate these days, but a word that I believe lies at the heart of the change that is essential to sustaining not just the NHS through the 21st century, but life beyond the 21st century.
In his blog Ewan Bell asked how the NHS should prioritise its services – what are the essentials and what should we be doing?
I think we need to turn that thinking round and look at it differently – from the point of view of ensuring that as we empower people we also expect them to be accountable and therefore responsible for the choices they make. . . so here’s a few thoughts and a lot of unanswered questions!
The more society gives in terms of allowing individuals to renege on any personal responsibility and the more it protects them from the consequences of their actions and decisions the deeper into this complex and costly moral mire we sink.
So where do we start? Can we make the huge cultural shift required without some horrendous intervention such as war, which inevitably enforces change from selfish desire and want to more simple human need.
How do we teach people to take personal responsibility when they know they simply don’t have to take any because someone else will always pick up the pieces? How do we reduce escalating public expectation? The NHS cannot simply cut back on what it does while society as a whole continues to abandon all sense of personal responsibility; expects more and more to be done for it and litigious greed is ready to pounce on any perceived breach of human rights.
When prisoners win compensation for having the slop out their cells what hope is there of change? Don’t the rest of us have to clean our own toilets?
The fact that benefits are capped at £350 a week but someone on the minimum wage earns only £251.25 before deductions seems to be indicative of where we, as a society, are at. There are few or no consequences for failing to take responsibility. Add to this the fact that publically funded advice agencies actually complete forms for people and lie in order to get them certain benefits which they are neither entitled to nor need and you simply perpetuate perceived dependence, engendering more unnecessary demand and expenditure.
The problem is beautifully illustrated by the story of two students, aged 16 and 19 respectively, sharing a flat. The 16 year old gets her bursary and a job and puts some money aside for the summer months. Her wages fail to come through so she asks for support from the college hardship fund. She is entitled to nothing – because she has put a few pounds aside. The 19 year old blows all her bursary, litters the flat with takeaways and empty drink bottles, builds up a huge debt and gets handed out hundreds of pounds from the hardship fund . . .
Unfortunately the ending is not fair or just, or, more importantly in terms of the NHS, sustainable.
It reminds me of the story of the three little pigs and their houses built with straw, sticks and bricks. Two of the pigs learned their houses were not safe because they had to run for their lives from the big bad wolf and find shelter in the brick house built laboriously by their brother.
We have created a society where there is no big bad wolf – no consequences. We have created a society where people simply expect the state (be it NHS, benefits system, social services or whatever) to sort out all their problems and if they don’t many people either kick up a huge fuss, shout and scream until they get what they want or take on a lawyer.
So how do we start to change things and find that balance between a society that takes care of its vulnerable and needy and yet engage differently with those who are outside of the vulnerable and needy group but still think they have the right to whatever they want at whatever cost – as long as it is not to their pocket or life style.
How do we start to embrace the massive moral and cultural shift needed from politicians down and ‘minorities demanding the same rights as majorities’ up? How do we deal with the human rights bill which in its purest form is an excellent and necessary thing but which is so open to interpretation and abuse that it forms a rod for our own backs?
Answers on the back of a postcard please. . . !
“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”
Anne Marshall is a Staff Nurse on the Renal Unit at NHS Dumfries and Galloway