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OPINION

'Patient experience is the secret to staying alive in the NHS'

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So who did you vote for? As the NHS promise auction unfolded, I smiled as each fantasy unravelled.

Politicians know they don’t have a hope in hell of providing a seven-day NHS (Tory), a sameday GP appointment for anyone over 75 (Tory), or a midwife by your side every minute of labour (Labour). Even if the money were available, how would we suddenly grow 8,000 more GPs, 20,000 more nurses and 3,000 more midwives (Labour and UKIP)? And is being able to see a GP on a Sunday afternoon really the best use of the NHS’s precious resources (Tory)?

My guess is that I did more for my own health - and that of the NHS - by walking to and from the polling station than by placing my cross. But then I also believe that for 90% of symptoms, you’d be better off with a dog than a doctor.

What we can do for ourselves to stay well often far exceeds what the NHS can do for us - we just need to give people the confidence, courage, hope and support to realise it. Whoever’s in charge of the NHS, it can’t survive without a massive shift to self-care and a bidet revolution in healthcare: from the bottom up.

I’ve written a book, Staying Alive - How to Get the Best from the NHS, about how patients can get the right self-care and NHS care. Well, actually patients and carers wrote half of it. I know a bit about mental health and resilience (my Dad suffered from depression and took his life when I was seven) but I’ve never been poor or seriously ill, and I’m in no position to tell people how to live their lives and how to behave when they become patients.

So I spent a lot of time listening to people who have survived and even thrived as patients, in and out of the NHS, and combined their tips and tactics with my insider knowledge. And I also listened to those whose NHS care had gone terribly wrong, and their advice on how to stop it happening to others.

Those with the most difficult, stressful lives are used to taking tough decisions every day. With the right information and support, they can use these skills to make the right choices when they use the NHS. Nearly all the patients and carers I spoke to wanted to improve the NHS, not just for themselves and their family, but for other patients. Most have had a satisfactory to excellent experience of the NHS and wanted to share their thoughts and ideas with others. And those who had poor or disastrous “care” were very driven by the needs to stop it happening to other people.

In 30 years in the NHS I’ve lived through 15 top-down structural reforms driven by ideology rather than evidence. My book isn’t party political because I strongly believe politicians of all sides should grow up and collaborate around evidence, compassion and patient experience.

If all we ever did in health and social care was listen to the suggestions and concerns of frontline staff, patients and carers, and act on this to continuously improve the service, the NHS would be the best in the world. We still need to put more money into it, but we need to be certain that money benefits patients.

And to deliver patient-centred care, patients need to reveal themselves as people - what matters most, their hopes and fears - and we have to listen.

As poet Mary Oliver put it: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” No one said on his or her deathbed: “I wish I’d spent more time hanging around the NHS.” Most lives need living and loving, not medicalising.

● Nursing Times readers can order a copy of Staying Alive - How to Get the Best From the NHS for £10 (instead of £14.99) at Bit.ly/1zBbdvJ, using the code: STAY.

Phil Hammond (@drphilhammond) is an NHS doctor, journalist, broadcaster and comedian.

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