Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Or Dorothy for that matter

VReflections on patient-NHS partnership working


I’ve been to a workshop today to talk about revolutionising (or do I mean achieving?) real patient-staff partnership working in the NHS. Oh it was so refreshing and energising to be in a room full of people who get it, and who work hard to do it.

I like this name – partnership. In fact let’s go a step further…equal partnership.

For who is the expert? The patient/carer or the doctor, nurse, manager, director?

Who knows most? Who has the right skills? Who has the loved experience? Who has felt what illness feels like?

Well of course no one is an expert and everyone is an expert.

And who has the power in these relationships?

And who wants to retain the power in these relationships?

Several people today talked about reminding themselves when they walk into a meeting with a doctor that it should be an equal and respectful relationship. But we do have to remind ourselves, don’t we?

I still think I must not take up much of the doctor’s time and fail to ask and discuss questions I should ask and discuss. She’s in a hurry. She’s got a queue waiting.

And when we are in a meeting with clinical or managerial staff about services or experience we still usually feel we are there by gracious condescention. And we mustn’t challenge (rock the boat) too hard or we might be turfed out.

How does the other side view us? Genuinely.

And for that matter, before you shout at me, should we really have to talk about “sides”, like in a battle? It might feel like that sometimes, but it shouldn’t need to.

How does the other side see us? How do they feel about us being at the table?

Do they feel vulnerable? Ready to be shouted at? To be told they do a crap job? By people who don’t understand the pressures they are under?

Or, do they think what a great opportunity to learn whether what we do is the right thing for patients and carers? How can I work with this person to share our perceptions, our experiences, our preferences and our choices?

How can we get from the first to the second? As someone said today, sharing vulnerabilities honestly in meetings resets the tone and hides the baggage. We can get on with the task, find a solution together, rather than fighting our corner and blocking change.

And then, what else gets in the way of partnership?

Trust? A key element of a financial or business partnership is trust. Without it the partnership fails, is dissolved.

We have to be people who can be trusted.

And so do they.

It’s two way.

Trusted to be polite, confidential and honest.

Trusted to listen, respond and reflect.

Trusted to challenge courageously and with commitment.

Trusted to make mistakes and learn from from them.


So let’s not be afraid of each other. Let’s not take sides.

Let’s work together because we want the same thing.


With gratitude to all you who contributed to this today.

One thought on “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Or Dorothy for that matter

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