Billy Boland: Can inspiration deliver better healthcare?

billy_bolandTwo different people told me I inspired them last week. How cool is that? I wasn’t even fishing for compliments (it has been known). They were actual, spontaneous, genuine acts of generous feedback. I’ve noticed people say this to me more these days. Each time it’s a gift. Something to delight in and reflect on.

I remember my first time. I was introduced to a junior doctor, who I had taught as a medical student. She was going on to psychiatric training and told me I had inspired her to make that career choice. I don’t recall her saying why she was inspired but it’s likely that if she had explained, I didn’t really take it in at the time. As we have been consistently under recruiting into psychiatry for years now, we need to do everything we can to attract people who want to come and work with us.

Given I’m fascinated by Quality Improvement (QI) at the moment, it got me wondering about the power of inspiration to improve quality. We hear that highly motivated workforces rise to challenges and go the extra mile. But what of inspiration?

Using my not-at-all-proven patient management QI analogy from February, we can see how it might apply. What “‘problem” might be solved by using inspiration? An example might be a desire to improve morale. The Francis Inquiry found that the “unhealthy and dangerous culture” at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust was characterised by low staff morale.

Getting a better understanding of the issue and looking for methods of measurement are key steps in QI. In the modern NHS there a number of measures of how staff feel about their work that can be used and potentially triangulated. A lot of NHS trusts have their own internal surveys of staff that they use in addition to national data such as the NHS Staff Survey. The Care Quality Commission also considers staff morale as part of their inspections and comment on this in their findings.

If improving morale is the challenge, can inspiration be part of the solution? According to the NHS Leadership Academy, yes it can. “Inspiring Shared Purpose” is the central component of the NHS Leadership Framework. It says leaders work with diverse individuals “inspiring them to believe in shared values so that they deliver benefits for patients, their families and the community.”

So there we have it. Leadership, inspiration, and quality improvement go hand in hand. Indeed it is one of the reasons I think that QI has such potential in the NHS at the moment, as I see it as a common language that can cut across specialties and services, and a mission people can unite around. And it’s not just me – The King’s Fund has called for leadership and quality improvement development to be aligned in the NHS.

Inspiring others then is not just a nice thing, it’s not just warm fuzzy feedback, it is not a luxury. It’s a key method to deliver a better NHS for the future. Think about it in your work and consider it in reflective practice. Of course, it is difficult to measure on an individual level. But remember we have all been (and continue to) be inspired by others. People will look to you for inspiration too. Embrace it.

Billy Boland is a consultant psychiatrist and associate medical director for quality and safety at Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust. You can follow him on Twitter @originalbboland.

Competing interests: I declare that I have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and I have no relevant interests to declare.