It is no doubt not a huge surprise when I say that the NHS is stretched. Coming from the NHS myself I appreciate that it does its job to the best it can but there are limitations placed on the people that work there and the places they work in.
The NHS five year forward view seeks a 'new relationship with patients and communities' and with more than 36,000 voluntary and community organisations providing health and care services in the UK, this is a fantastic opportunity for us all to start working together to help people through our country's vast health system and beyond.
In order to achieve this plan the NHS needs to acknowledge its own limitations and share them with the voluntary sector. However there are many barriers to overcome before this can happen, the main one being that the NHS is such a vast and complex organisation that it can be difficult to get a foothold on sharing issues effectively and with hospitals and practices all over the country, initiating a high level of change is obviously a huge challenge.
One simple step would be to help people become more involved in decisions about their care. At Maggie's we approach everyone that visits our Centres asking 'what matters to you?' rather than 'what's the matter with you?' in order to find out what it is that's important to that individual and their loved ones. The NHS is not currently able to adequately offer people this kind of service, it's primary function is to offer the best possible medical care and the amazing doctors and nurses that work for the NHS simply do not have the time to answer all of the overwhelming questions that come with a cancer diagnosis like 'what does this mean?' 'how do I tell my family?' and 'what do I do now?' Charities all over the country, like Maggie's, can provide the space, time and information so that people can comfortably deal with their needs and concerns.
However we in the voluntary sector also have our own hurdle. We often don't collaborate well - either with the NHS or other organisations. This is possibly because it is such a competitive market for funding and donations but we are also a very opinionated sector because we are a very passionate sector and so we can find ourselves criticising each other and the NHS, the very organisation we should be trying to help.
When Maggie's goes to a new hospital to begin discussions about building a new Centre we always try to overlook our own agenda and understand the individual needs that each community and their local NHS body needs. One common need is time, we know how stretched the time of those working in the NHS is which is why we help their patients with the simple things like un-packing all of the information they have been given and speaking to their families and loved ones about their diagnosis.
We all aspire to transform lives, pursue equality, empower people and act responsibly - indeed Maggie's own values of caring, sharing and daring I know are shared by our NHS and voluntary sector colleagues, but with our own distinctive qualities we are able to demonstrate these values differently. Being a charity gives us the freedom to be flexible and creative in our care for people with cancer, carers and families through cancer - a luxury not afforded to the NHS. This is why we strive to share our spaces with our colleagues in the NHS, encouraging them to hold their own support groups in the Centres, or even for staff to come and have their lunch in our gardens so that they can experience first hand what it is Maggie's offers and how we can work with them rather than seeing us as a competitor.
I believe we can change the way we work together. We can offer more support to those that need it if we show each other more understanding and respect each other's work and knowledge in our respective fields. It is important that we continue to learn from each other and build on our strengths so that together we can improve the quality of life for people with by cancer.