Purpose and values in the NHS

By Martin Vogel

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It was only last month that we were asked whether a hospital, of all things, would ever need to consider its purpose and values. To those outside the NHS, it is self-evident that a hospital exists to treat people’s health problems and to save lives. Yet today both Robert Francis QC and the Prime Minister have dispelled any notion that the NHS can currently be trusted to deliver such a purpose.

Introducing the final report of his inquiry into the Mid-Staffs hospital scandal, Robert Francis spoke of an NHS trust that “put corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and their safety.”  Responding to the report, David Cameron condemned “a focus on finance and figures at the expense of patient care” in the culture of the NHS.

The facts of the Mid Staffordshire scandal were already established, in part by Robert Francis’s earlier inquiry but also thanks to the campaigning efforts of relatives of some of the hundreds of patients who needlessly died because of negligent and inhumane “care”.

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Sustaining public service broadcasting worthy of the name

By Martin Vogel

reithFollowing my post earlier this week on the difficulties at the BBC, I have been chastised by a good friend and former colleague for being too harsh on the Corporation. The specific criticism was that my piece offered no evidence that I valued anything in the BBC.

On reflection, the complaint seems justified. As both a consumer and a former employee, I’m happy to record that I find much to cherish in the BBC’s output and modus operandi. Given how besieged staff inside the organisation feel, perhaps I erred in assuming that this was taken as read.  It is because I respect the nobility to which BBC journalism aspires that I am perplexed by its falling from grace.

However, all organisations need critical friends who are prepared to speak difficult truths. What people value in the BBC – or, more precisely, in its purpose of public service broadcasting – will be at risk if it remains sanguine about the existential threat it faces. The purpose of public service broadcasting is not served by trying to equate it with everything the BBC does. Nor by insisting that the activities we value in the BBC need to be undertaken by a single monolithic broadcaster.

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Focus ruthlessly to deliver your purpose

By Martin Vogel

Obsessive about focus

Few organisations know how to focus on their core purpose. The technology company, Apple, is one. Its chief executive, Steve Jobs, is famously obsessive about focus. Apple infuriates as many people as it delights by stripping away that which it considers inessential. But it is now worth more than a number of its close competitors combined. “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on,” said Jobs in 2008. “But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

How many arts organisations would see their purpose in these terms? My guess is that focus would be an underrated virtue in many. This may be the case for two reasons: either the organisation is not very clear about its purpose and therefore finds it hard to know what should be the object of its focus, or the leadership has clarity about the corporate purpose, but does not know how to align the organisation’s activities behind the mission.

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