While chairing a Quality Management panel discussion at the recent Africa Health conference I posed this question to the panel members: “What would you tell the new Minister of Health is his first priority?”
Gilbert Buckle from Ghana replied simply: “dare to be different”. Russell Rensburg, Director of the Rural Health Advocacy Project spoke about developing “dignified health systems” which he described as characterised by dignity for both patients and healthcare workers.
Both got me thinking. One of the mantras we all know is that if you keep doing things the same way, you will get the same results. So maybe we all need to dare to be different: to challenge the status quo if we really want to make a difference. Some of the ideas that emerged were about thinking differently about outcomes – the holy grail of whether any improvement makes a difference.
Where do we start with dignified health systems? Dignity for patients is in the first domain of the national core standards, in accordance with the Batho Pele principles and the Patients’ Rights Charter. How dignified is it to sit on a hard bench, in a crowded waiting room for hours? Or to lie in a labour ward with torn curtains? How does it feel when the professor does a ward round with the students and talks to them about the patient, without once speaking directly to the patient?
For healthcare workers – can you have dignity if you cannot do your job because you don’t have the right equipment? How easy is it to maintain your dignity when the waiting room is packed, the paint is peeling off the walls, the patients are getting angry – and you only have one doctor on duty and he is busy in theatre? From the Minister to the front line, we all must dare to be different if we care one jot about improving services for patients and staff.
Restore our dignity!
Jacqui Stewart (CEO, Council for Health Service Accreditation of Southern Africa [COHSASA])