Our Future Health & Happiness – an essay by Sue Spencer

In your mind’s eye what does our future health and happiness look like, sound like, feel like?

I believe that human connection is at the core of a successful and sustainable health care system. It is all too easy to focus on tasks and jobs to do, to malign health care practitioners as uncaring automatons but it takes courage and commitment to focus on the person who needs the health care intervention.

If we remind ourselves each day that we are all human and that we need connections but that is also complex and challenging then that might be OK

At the beginning of a consultation the GP takes 10 secs to draw breath and look the patient in the eye. To acknowledge the difficulties and then listen, really listen to what is being asked for. We find ourselves rushing to solutions, seeking pills to respite, tests to run, referrals to send off. What if we just listened a bit more? What if we had a conversation and explored all the issues instead of limiting ourselves to the illness or symptoms. Let’s connect with human beings with all their edges and ruffles. Smooth going is for cowards,

What if managers and leaders listened a bit more to their colleagues, instead of rushing headlong to change and making people feel restless and undervalued. What if we just spent a bit more time understanding behaviours and assumptions?

I believe in person centred, humanistic care but delivering that ideal is not easy nor should it ignore health care practitioners. They need valuing and understanding – I don’t think we can have one without the other.

I took the challenge of returning to health care after nearly 20 years in higher education. My principle need was to have more direct connection with patients, carers and families. As a champion of service user involvement in higher education I had become disillusioned with the rhetoric of health care policy and knew I needed to put myself nearer the front line.

I have found it enormously challenging, needing to prove myself to both nurses and managers but my touchstone is person centred care. Each time I have my feathers ruffled and feel like having a tantrum because nobody understands me I am return to that focus. Connect with the people around me and stop mind reading and comparing myself with others

What if I am the last person a relative speaks to before their loved one died? What if I am the last person to acknowledge the difficulties we face in end of life care? It might be seen as easier not to face these challenges, walk passed the relatives with a chirrpy greeting and being busy. What if instead you stop and acknowledge the difficulties – not seek to solve it just let sorrow and grief, anger, misunderstandings into the room.

What if?

I want everyone to admit their vulnerabilities and acknowledge each of us has a responsibility to do what we can do. We might not be able to solve problems, sort out things or stop people dying BUT we can all be human and connect.

I remind myself with this poem


This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

Some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

Who violently sweep your house

Empty of its furniture,

Still, treat each guest honourably.

He may be clearing you out

For some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.

Because each has been sent

As a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi,

translation by Coleman Barks


How would you love it to be?

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