3 min read

Editorial Friday 5 June 2015: 'We hide vegetables' - that was the Confed Conference 2015, that was

Wednesday's programme opened with an attentive, personal and measured speech from NHS Confederation chief executive Rob Webster on the issues facing the service. Anita Anand again chaired all the plenaries with skill and wit.

We hide vegetables - and I'm in charge
This was followed by Simon Stevens' speech, delivered in a more narrative and conversational style than last year.
The nice, compact film at the outset proved that if this being NHS England CE thing doesn't work out, Stevens has a new career awaiting him as a BBC1 prime time TV presenter. It worked well as an opening, and contained the line of the conference when a school dinner lady, discussing improving diets, told him "we hide vegetables".

He got a thank you and a defence of the value of managers in early, which was prudent husbandry.

Four main messages underlie Stevens' speech:
1. There is no more money coming this financial year.
2. JFDI (where I = redesigning services). Now. If not yesterday.
3. I may have to do some symbolic things to get the scale of the financial problem across. See agency spend caps. Deal with it.
4. I'm in charge.

The Three Jeremy Hunts
Thursday centred around Jeremy Hunt's speech, delivered with relaxed confidence and not a few decent jokes.

We saw three Jeremys in this display:
1. Good Jeremy, AKA Patient Safety Jeremy. Lots and lots on patient safety and quality of care. Lots on Mid-Staffs as inflection point for change (though little on the fact that finances were one root cause factor of the scandal). Oh, and thanking delegates, and asking them to thank their staff when they got back. There were gracious acknowledgements of Norman Lamb and Andy Burnham's work on mental health and new, full heand and social care integration. The mash-up of Gracious Jeremy and Thank You Jeremy and Patient Safety Jeremy is what makes him a pretty good Health Secretary.
2. Waffly Jeremy. Lots and lots on values, and their importance (and values are indeed important). Not enough defining what the values are: are we talking Mother Teresa values, Peter Mandelson values or Sepp Blatter values? Without a definition of values, autocratic NHS leaders who have 'interesting' values can clsaim that their are the original recipe.
3. Optimistic Jeremy. His attempt to frame the debate by claiming that the debate about the funding level has been settled was towards the 'aah, isn't it cute?' end of the spectrum of the politically obvious. Debate about the money in the NHS has scarcely started, and we are going to have A Lot More of it this Parliament.

BME - bring more energy
The BME workforce breakout session was expertly chaired, and well-chaired physically with three concentric ovals of seats, speakers in the centre giving the room a different, more approachable dynamic.

Despite excellent contributions from those present, the lack of progress on diversity and equality remains a depressing stain on an NHS which simply must bring more energy to this issue.

Culture club
James Titcombe, Umesh Prabhu, Heather Tierney-Moore and Dawn Jarvis participated in a fine session chaired by Rob Webster, looking at culture issues within organisations. Monitor's impromptu session also displayed welcome supportive tones and attitudes among their senior leaders.

NKOTB have really let themselves go
The 'meet the system leaders' plenary session just didn't work. Six is too big a group for a Q&A format, and consequently too many of the questions were unfocused.

Ending with a bang
The conference ended with a bang on Friday, with wonderful sessions by Alison Cameron on recovery from mental ill-heath and becoming a positive subversive, and Brigadier Kevin Beaton OBE and Lt. Cpl Maggie Durrant and on military hospitals in war theatres and Ebola hospitals in Sierra Leone.

It felt that there could have been more plenaries on change management and tight finances, but one traditional-style conference can't do everything. 'Confed' is a gathering of the tribes, with its own pace and rituals. It was lovely to meet old friends, digital friends and new friends.

COI Declaration: Andy Cowper paid for his own travel and accommodation, and received a press pass. He received liquid hospitality from HSJ, KPMG and dinner from Nick Samuels and ZPB Associates. See? Ethics is not just a county east of London.