Since October I have been overseeing the work of our healthcare and medicine groups, and it has already been an eye-opening experience.
We all spend time thinking about our health – whether that is hitting the gym or worrying about the consequences of too much cake or – in my case, too many crisps.
If things do go wrong, then we rely on trained professionals to help us.
I think I have rather taken for granted the support I have received from the NHS, and never really given much thought to those who educate the nurses, doctors, midwives, and others who go about their daily business of caring about our health and supporting us in many ways when we need it.
But education and training are critically important, they are the heartbeat and the foundation to success, and they lie behind the brilliant healthcare that we have in the UK. With an increasing focus on quality of life and as we all live longer, this area of work feels ever more important. London itself is home to millions of people, and it is especially interesting to engage with the higher education institutions and hear both the challenges and opportunities faced in this field. Whilst I won’t claim to be an expert, or even anywhere near an expert, each day brings a greater appreciation of how important both the education, and the work itself, is.
Let’s start with perceptions. My mother-in-law was a nurse, and she talks about her role of assisting the doctor and helping patients go about their daily activities. The world has moved on in many ways since she worked, including social and technological. A nurse today could find herself needing to understand a complex set of results, and in some cases prescribing medicine. Additionally, nurses need a strong understanding of medical procedures and anatomy. The work is fast paced, decision making critical, and nurses are now expected to collaborate with a range of healthcare professionals in thinking about the whole of the patient’s needs.
We also need to talk about placements and environments in which learning is undertaken. Placements are arranged by a university and are essential, as nothing beats the knowledge gained through practical application. Technology such as simulators can help with experiences, but still nothing beats the real thing. As pressures mount for more nurses and doctors, we must recognise that restrictions exist and that there are not an infinite number of placements. You also need to take into account London’s size and diversity, placements need to be thought through with individuals in mind, aiming to reduce costly cross-London travel and flexible for those juggling dependents or jobs.
I recently visited a university which has invested heavily in its architecture and technology. The visit included looking at ways to adapt space to suit multidisciplinary study, recognise diversity, buy new equipment, all of which will quickly become part of the norm for all providers. Another university has been investing in bringing researchers, an outpatient unit and imaging facilities together, looking for greater collaboration between research scientists, clinicians and patients.
So, when our London Higher healthcare and medicine groups meet, there is a rich and frank discussion of issues. Some are about London, with all its complexities and opportunities, others are national challenges.
Our groups listen to each other. We seek to understand, share, and collaborate, but there is much more listening to be done generally. Patients, students, educators and professionals need to voice how best we move forward and work together. If those making decisions can listen – really listen – then good policy will be made. Some policy may not hit the headlines, and may not be quick, but ultimately will support and encourage a thriving health service.
Written by Jolanta Edwards, Director of Strategy at London Higher, and lead of the LHEG/LMED groups.