A culture of fire-fighting?

A phrase I've heard a lot over the years of working with staff of all stripes within the NHS is "Culture of fire-fighting". Put simply, we react to challenges when they come up and it feels very uncontrolled and chaotic. Very often when those crises emerge people pull out all the stops, the blaze is damped down and normal service resumes. Until the next smoldering ember goes up. This invirtuous cycle causes immense frustration among staff, but the cycle is difficult to break. But it can be done.

To continue and possibly the stretch the analogy, when fires occur, they are investigated. Once investigated interested parties are engaged and collaborate to come up with solutions to limit the likelihood and damage of similar future events. This has led to the introduction of many things we now take for granted, smoke alarms, a profusion of different fire extinguishers to more efficiently douse various kinds of blazes, settees stuffed with material that doesn't catch light if you sit on it wearing nylon trousers.

Building a consensus around a shared goal,creating a culture of collaboration and equipping people with greater capability and engaging them to make change happen is the only way to deliver and sustain improvements. This is what has and continues to happen when fires have been fought. So that being the case is it accurate to use "Culture of Fire-fighting" to describe the frustrations NHS staff are alluding to? Or is it something else?

Tracey Comber

Posted by Tracey Comber

Marketing and Communications Manager

The Unipart Way: performance improvement that sustains.

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