With the current pressures on health and care services there’s a lot of talk about resilience.
“The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.” Nye Bevan
The narrative goes that to face the challenges ahead we need to grow resilient people, teams, organisation and systems, but do we all agree on what we mean when we talk about resilience?
So, what is it?
“Resilience is the ability to bounce back – a capacity to absorb negative conditions, integrate them in meaningful ways, and move forward.” Health Education England
“Resilience is the ability to recover from fumbles or outright mistakes and bounce back. But flexibility alone is not enough. You have to learn from your errors. Those with resilience build on the cornerstones of confidence — accountability (taking responsibility and showing remorse), collaboration (supporting others in reaching a common goal), and initiative (focusing on positive steps and improvements).” Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Professor of Business at Harvard Business School
“Resilience is a process to harness resources to sustain well-being. I like the word “process” because it implies that resilience is not just an attribute or even a capacity. I like the phrase “to harness resources” because it asks us to identify what are the most relevant resources to people in places...And I like the expression “sustained well-being” because resilience involves more than just a narrow definition of health or the absence of pathology” Dr Catherine Panter-Brick, Medical Anthropologist, Yale University
Given these varying meanings how do we pin down what it is we’re trying to achieve?
And once we've defined it, how do we go about building ‘resilience’? Three questions for you to ponder:
Do we aspire to ‘resilience’ at the expense of empathy and our capacity for vulnerability?
Do we become ‘resilient’; as individuals or as systems?
Do we know the ‘evidence’ for resilience and do we trust it?
And finally, who do we require to become more resilient? Where does the responsibility for ‘resilience’ in healthcare lie – with individuals, policy makers, organisations, or citizens?
Anna Starling is a Policy Fellow at the Health Foundation. Becks Fisher is a GP, and has just completed a year as a National Medical Director Clinical Fellow based at the Health Foundation.