Helen Buckingham answers your questions!

NT Helen Buckingham 0 - lowerRes.jpg

Hello, my name is Helen and I work at an organisation called the Nuffield Trust. Our job is to help people in the NHS to think about better ways to organise healthcare. I have two jobs at Nuffield - one is to make sure we are running our own organisation as well as we can, and the second is to lead some of the work we do with people in the NHS, especially work which is about how different parts of the NHS work together. I have been at the Nuffield Trust for 3 years. Before that, I worked in the NHS for 25 years, and I've had all sorts of jobs in large and small organisations, including some of the organisations which look after the whole NHS.

Do you think that the NHS is an organisation that young people should be encouraged to devote their lives to?
believable_cricket, Bruncliffe Academy

Hello believable_cricket, that’s a really interesting question. Your whole working life is an awfully long time! But there are two things about the NHS which I think mean a lot to the people who work in it. The first is its purpose – to provide health care to every single person in the UK according to what they need, not how much they can pay. The feeling that you’re part of an organisation which is dedicated to caring for people when they are most in need, and supporting them to live the best lives they possibly can is a really great one. The second thing is the sheer variety of things you can do if you work in the NHS. So you can actually have several different jobs and careers – you might start by working as a porter in your holidays, then become a nurse or a doctor, then later you might be leading an hospital or a group of hospitals. There are over 350 different sorts of jobs you can do in the NHS! And remember that they’re not all in hospitals or GP surgeries – you can work with people who need care in their own homes, you can work with people who have mental health problems or learning disabilities, you can work in schools, the list goes on…

Do you think that the government are supportive enough of the NHS and give enough support financially to provide for the whole UK?
mindblowing_sparrow, Ormiston Sudbury Academy

Well mindblowing_sparrow, the first thing to say is that although we talk about ‘the NHS’ we actually have four NHSs. Health care is what’s known as a ‘devolved matter’. That means that the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments all run the NHS in their countries, and the government in Westminster is in charge of the NHS in England. So each government has a say in the amount of money they spend on their own NHS. The English government spends more on the NHS than on almost anything else, and that spending has gone up every year, even when other government departments are having their budgets reduced. But the NHS could always spend more. The number of people using NHS services goes up every year, and we are seeing more and more people who have more than one illness, and that makes their health care extra complicated and more expensive. If we keep increasing the amount of money we spend on the NHS, even if the government asks us to pay more taxes, eventually we wouldn’t be able to pay for anything else! So the government has asked the NHS to do everything it can to help people stay healthy, as well as to fix them when they do become ill or are injured. We all have a responsibility to help the NHS by looking after our own health as much as we can – eating well, taking exercise and never ever smoking. I would like to see the Government fund more of what we call ‘social care’ – that means the support that some people need to live their day to day lives if they have a disability, or as they get older. More funding in social care could help stop some of those people falling ill and needing the NHS.

I would like to see the Government fund more of what we call ‘social care’ – that means the support that some people need to live their day to day lives if they have a disability, or as they get older.

Helen Buckingham

Do you think the NHS is ready for the impacts of lots of people getting the Coronavirus?
digital_assumption, Preston Manor School

Well that is the big question we’re all asking right now isn’t it? The NHS is doing everything it possibly can to prepare. Some people who had expected to have operations in the next few weeks will have to wait longer so that hospital beds can be kept in case they are needed for people who are ill with coronavirus. Money has been made available so that other people who were in hospital (perhaps a little longer than they needed to be because they needed help to go home) can get that help. NHS staff who have retired recently are being asked if they are able to come back to work. Private hospitals are joining up with the NHS so that we’ve got even more places patients can go. And the NHS is making sure it has even more of the staff, beds and equipment needed to look after the sickest patients. But it’s a really big challenge. So we all need to follow the instructions we’ve been given to stay away from big groups of people, to stay indoors if we think we are sick, and most of all to wash our hands a LOT. That will help slow coronavirus infections down so that the NHS has the best possible chance of having enough hospital beds, doctors and nurses to look after the people who need them.

Are all of the debates and people worrying about the NHS making you feel any different about your job?
entertaining_strawberry, Birchwood C of E Primary School

Thank you for asking that entertaining_strawberry, it’s really important to think about how people feel. I’ve worked in and around the NHS for nearly 28 years, and I have always loved it. It’s not always easy, and especially when you have more important jobs in an organisation, that comes with real responsibilities and you can worry a lot about getting things right. Someone once said that the NHS does a million things every 36 hours, so things that happen ‘once in a million’ will happen a lot. That’s true, but for the person that that thing happens to, it’s a really big deal, and you always have to remember that. When things go wrong, it’s very important to find out why, and to do the best you can to learn and change things so the same mistake doesn’t happen again. The flip side of that though is that the NHS does so many brilliant things which are absolutely life-changing in a good way. It’s a real thrill to get a letter from a patient or relative who has had fantastic care, or to look at numbers which show you that people are getting better faster. My job now is to work alongside people in the NHS to help them use facts about what works – and what doesn’t work – so that they can do their jobs even better, and it’s a real privilege to be able to do that.

It’s a real thrill to get a letter from a patient or relative who has had fantastic care, or to look at numbers which show you that people are getting better faster.

Helen Buckingham

What are your best achievements?
emotional_acorn, Braiswick Primary School

Hi emotional_acorn, that’s an excellent question – we’re not always very good about talking about our achievements are we? The things I’m most proud of are the times when I’ve been able to see that I’ve made a real difference to other people. That might be one or two people – like the time I helped a lady who had learning disabilities to have her own house to live in. Or it might be a big group of people over a long time – I did a very big piece of work once which was about how to rebuild a hospital, and what sorts of things would happen in that hospital. It was ten years before everything that we agreed we would do there was complete, but I know that doing that made a real difference to a whole community. Outside work, a couple of years ago I challenged myself to do a big sponsored walk – I walked 44 kilometres and I raised about £1800 for charity. I’d never done anything like that before and I was so proud when I finished it!

We'd love to hear your thoughts on Helen's answers:

  • Did anything surprise you?
  • Did anything make you feel better about the coronavirus?

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