NHS hospital bosses made to chant ‘we can do this’ at meeting on A&E targets

Regional director criticised for proposing practice that was 'more akin to North Korea than the NHS'

Ambulance outside Accident and Emergency
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

In scenes reminiscent of BBC political satire The Thick of It, hospital bosses in England and Wales were forced to chant “we can do this” by a senior NHS official, in an effort to improve their accident and emergency performance.

Hospital trust chief executives say they were left feeling “bullied, patronised and humiliated” by the incident at a meeting attended by Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, and Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS in England.

The leaders of 59 trusts which “NHS national bodies deemed to have the worst record on meeting the politically important four-hour A&E treatment target were called into a meeting held in London on Monday 18 September,” says The Guardian.

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The hospital bosses were then divided up into smaller groups based on their geographical positions.

According to the Health Service Journal, which revealed details of the meeting, Paul Watson, NHS England’s regional director for the Midlands and east of England, encouraged those in the group he was leading to chant “we can do it” as part of his plan to improve their A&E performance.

One hospital chief executive at the meeting told the HSJ: “It was awful – the worst meeting I’ve been at in my entire career. Watson said: ‘Do you want the 40-slide version of our message or the four-word version?’ Everyone wanted the four-word version, obviously.”

“He then said ‘I want you to all chant ‘we...can...do...this’. It was awful, patronising and unhelpful, and came straight after the whole group had just been shouted at over A&E target performance and told that we were all failing and putting patient safety at risk.”

The story prompted complaints from within the NHS that the chanting was “Bob the Builder for NHS leaders,” says The Guardian, referring to the TV character's “Can we fix it? Yes we can” catchphrase.

Another HSJ reader posted a comment on its website saying the practice was: “More akin to North Korea than the NHS”.

Watson has since apologised saying the chanting “was meant as light relief rather than brainwashing.”

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The purpose of the meeting appeared to be so the health secretary could “send a message that those who failed to hit A&E targets must do more or risk losing their jobs,” says The Sun.

But one of the paper’s well-placed sources said the event offered them “nothing new” to learn and that trust leaders were upset at being told to “own their problems, not externalise them”.

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