The cup of tea that changed my life and could change yours.

About 20 years ago, when I was a practising physiotherapist, I went to work in the UK in Halifax, Yorkshire – a proud northern county with a passion for cricket, windy moors and tea. Lots of tea. I’m serious, the country runs on it.

I was working in an organisation that had a ‘social model of care’ where support workers and professionals were not just enabled but expected to put their clients’ needs (and cups of tea) at the centre of their care planning and care delivery.

I know this isn’t rocket science, but the approach showed me just how important support workers (and those cups of tea) are to an organisation’s and client’s success in the health and social care industry.

Namely, it showed me that when support workers are surrounded by professionals who have the client’s needs at the very centre of all of their decision making, they could take the time required to get to know the client, to fully consider their needs, to advocate on their behalf and to implement strategies (with a professional’s support). This would achieve meaningful outcomes for each client. Even if that outcome is as simple as making a pot of tea to share with loved ones.

My colleagues taught me how to remove my professional ego from decision making and care provision and take the time to genuinely understand and organise care around what the client needs, rather than what I or the system requires. Working this way showed me that the time efficiency, heavily rationed and scientific interventionist model I’d experienced in Australia comes at a cost.

That cost is not being able to develop relationships with the clients and missing valuable information that could truly improve people’s lives. In turn, this leads to a lack of continuity in care and, ironically, organisational inefficiency. In the end, there are poorer outcomes all round.

On the other hand, the social model of care where support workers surround the client (and, you guessed it, drink lots of cups of tea), enables relationship building, which in turn enables  identification of, and advocacy for, their needs to achieve improved outcomes for both the client and the organisation. 

This UK experience, when I discovered this passion for putting the client rather than professional or organisational needs at the centre of decision making, has influenced how I’ve worked ever since. Oh, and how could I forget … it’s where I met my husband – over a pint and a curry, rather than a cup of tea – so that experience was life changing too!

My new found professional passion drove me to obtain my PhD which examined more closely the contribution support workers and assistants make and the impact they have on the delivery and outcomes of care for older people in the community.  

For the last 17 years I have honoured my UK experience, my PhD research and my passion, using these learnings to work as a health services researcher and strategist. Now I help organisations to understand their service delivery challenges and find solutions to get better outcomes for their clients.

Like me, people who work in the community, disability and healthcare sectors are passionate about helping their clients. They are driven by their values to deliver quality care. At the same time, having run a healthcare business of my own, I am fully cognisant that organisations also need to make a profit or sufficient revenue to survive. I believe these two powerful forces can work together if we just take time to re-think how.

These days, we’re all facing similar challenges: workforce shortages, the pressure to keep doing more with fewer resources, and often managing Board expectations.

Many of these challenges aren’t new but Business As Usual just isn’t going to work anymore.

For a start, there just isn’t the workforce to fill the gaps. Which means that organisations may have to restrict parts of their services. And the waiting lists just keep getting longer.

Also, organisations may not have systematic and accurate ways to monitor the impact of care. It’s easy to track numbers of clients, financial performance and waitlists. But these measures don’t help leaders measure the real impact they are having on the people at the heart of their services.

We’re left with an exhausted and demoralised staff who are finding it harder to deliver the quantity and quality of care they want to give. And we have organisations that can’t see clearly how they’re progressing towards their vision.

In the end, our clients suffer. It’s a heartbreaking tale.

As organisations, we need to make changes. Before doing anything though, I ask you to be brave, step back and understand the problem in new ways.

When I work with organisations, I ask if they’re willing to let go and think from a different perspective. As humans, we are built for stories. I think stories breathe life into a problem and help us find the best solutions in unexpected places.

Being curious about the world means that you can collect ideas and people who can think about the world from different angles and apply the principles in new contexts. You never know when a solution to finding funding for a housing program will come from a story about your friend’s experience in the solar panel industry.

Once I know you are on board for the ride, I work with you to collect a spider’s web of data from across your organisation from Finances, to People and Culture, Clinicians and most importantly your clients. After applying my academic rigour, I often find that the different data tells the same story. That’s when we can start exploring the best solutions to fix the problems.

Then I’ll work with the organisation to set up a bespoke data system building on existing systems and practices so that people can easily use it to monitor the things that matter, answer their key questions, and help keep clients at the heart of their work.

It’s not a quick fix, but this is what meaningful and sustainable change looks like.

If you are a health service leader and you are ready to be brave, put the kettle on and take the next step with this five minute survey: Connect – UNPLEX

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top