Play for Today

Children have been on my mind lately. Recently I spent time shadowing our Play Specialists in Kidz First and really was blown away by the work that they do. The team of 12 is dedicated to walking alongside kids during their journey with us, which can often involve traumatic surgery, pain or other unpleasant experiences. Their work is characterized by gentleness, kindness and compassion – all qualities which positively transform the experience of our younger patients.

The stories the Play Specialists told me about their work really were very moving. Like the child who was scared about his upcoming surgery so the Play Specialist sat down with him, and with the help of a teddy bear talked him through what would happen, right down to the drip in his arm. Or the child whose dog had been ‘put to sleep’ weeks before he came into hospital, and was therefore terrified of being ‘put to sleep’ for his operation in case he too didn’t wake up. As you know, children can be very literal so telling them they’re going to get a shot in the arm really can strike fear into their hearts!

These anecdotes really speak to the issue of language and how we talk to one another. Often, we think we are speaking in a way that communicates well but we are actually having entirely the opposite effect, especially when two people’s frames of reference, and how they each see the world, are different. As the Play Specialists demonstrated, the way to get around that is to have the ability, in the moment, to reach out and connect with somebody on their terms. Doing so makes a world of difference to how patients feel about their treatment, whether or not it’s successful and how quickly they recover.

I left Kidz First feeling hugely grateful that we have a team of people who are totally dedicated to the idea of creating compassion and kindness. It was also heartening to talk to the Play Specialists about opportunities to extend this thinking into other areas of our organisation such as with end of life care or working with the frail elderly.

The other interesting highlight from my past week was a meeting with New Zealand’s Children’s Commissioner, Dr Russell Wills. We spoke in detail about how CM Health might work with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner to help lead improvements to child health across the country. He followed this up by sending me an article from The New Yorker, authored by American surgeon and renowned healthcare commentator, Atul Gawande.

The fascinating article talks about how ideas spread and stick to positively change practice. Gawande starts off talking about anaesthesia and sterilisation to avoid post-operative sepsis but the most compelling part of the article for me is the second part where he talks about some work he’s been doing in rural India to introduce good birthing practice that is improving the lives of mothers and their babies without significant costs (and in the face of remarkable odds).

To quote the author himself, the moral of his story is that “people talking to people is still the way that norms and standards change”. Change and improvement isn’t about instructing or exhorting people to do better, but about reaching out and working alongside one another, just like Gawande in India and just like our very own Play Specialists in Kidz First.



Author: Geraint Martin

Geraint Martin was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Counties Manukau DHB in December 2006. It is one of the largest District Health Boards in New Zealand and services a population of half a million. He has significant experience over 30 years in national policy & in managing both primary and secondary care . Previously, he was Director of Health and Social Care Strategy at the Welsh Government .He authored a radical 10 year strategy of reform, including the successful “Saving 1000 lives” Campaign.Until 2004, he was CEO at Kettering General Hospital & had held senior positions in London & Birmingham.He has worked closely with clinicians in improving clinical standards,patient safety,chronic disease management & managing acute care to reduce hospital demand.In NZ, He has promoted clinical quality and leadership as central to improving patientcare. This has led to a significant increases in productivity and access, whilst maintaining financial balance. CMH has completed in 2014 a $500 m capital redevelopment programme, the largest in New Zealand. A central part of this is the establishment of Ko Awatea,the Centre for Innovation and Research which will underpin CMH as one of the the leading health systems in Australasia.In 2008, he chaired the Ministerial Review of Emergency Care in New Zealand, and in 2013 was an member of the Expert Advisory Panel on Health Sector Performance. Geraint has an MSc in Health Policy from Birmingham University .His post-graduate work has focused on health economics and Corporate Strategy . He is adjunct Professor of Healthcare Management at AUT and Victoria University, Wellington Elected in 2006 as a Companion of the Institute of Healthcare Management, previously he was an Associate Fellow at Birmingham University.He is is Chair of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, a member of the Institute of Directors, on the Board of the NZ Institute of Health Management & previously the Board of The NZ Health Quality and Safety Commission.

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