Delegates at the ‘Redefining Resolution in the NHS Conference’ held earlier this week were told that: “The management of discipline and grievance within the NHS is a public health issue, which should be taken as seriously as smoking.”
These were the words of conflict management expert, David Liddle, CEO of the TCM Group, which organised the conference. He added: “The management of discipline and grievance within the NHS is a public health issue - a silent killer, which should be taken as seriously as smoking.”
David argued that now is the time for the NHS to establish a culture of open-dialogue and collaboration, to encourage the constructive early resolution of conflicts before they escalate into damaging formal procedures.
The NHS is fearful of conflict
David believes the NHS has wrapped itself in red tape to prevent risk, because it is fearful of conflict and failure.
“Conflict can be a driver of change, innovation and creativity,” he said. “It can bring people together and harness the utter brilliance we have in our NHS. However current grievance processes are more concerned about mitigating and preventing risk of conflict than harnessing the inner brilliance of the individuals concerned.
“Zero-tolerance policies don’t work and have never worked in the NHS. You cannot, and will never to be able to, resolve complex people issues by bolting on a zero-tolerance policy or initiative adjunct to an organisation.
“Instead, conflict resolution within the NHS must be systemic, structured, cultural and fully-integrated.”
Current processes undermine everything good about the NHS
David went on to argue that paradoxically, current grievance processes encourage and drive a dynamic of mistrust, fear and uncertainty.
“The current management of conflict provokes and encourages fear. It seems paradoxical that the very policies established to tackle disputes actually make the disputes much worse.”
“Why do we rely on systems and processes that undermine everything that is good about the NHS? Why have we allowed ourselves to adopt a system that destroys relationships, and which has a significant impact - both physiological and psychological - on amazing people doing such amazing work?”
A new resolution system is needed
Throughout the conference, a range of leading conflict and mediation experts working within the NHS gave insight into how the current conflict management system might be reformed for the benefit of the NHS.
“When we release ourselves from a focus on risk and instead concern ourselves with people’s underlying fears, goals, hopes and motivations, we create a forum to be able to listen to one another and gain insights. Ironically, the less focus we have on risk and more on people, the less chance there is of risk in the first place,” David concludes.
“There has never been a better time in its history for the NHS to try new approaches to conflict resolution than right now.”