I love the Think About Health conferences.
In a world where the prevailing discourse is dominated by management- speak and heartless variants on outdated economic theories, I see them as jewels: rare and valuable.
If I could go to only one conference a year it would be this one -there are so few places where it is possible to explore issues in depth and breadth, to come across thoughts and ideas that can change the way you look at the world, and allow you to re-engage with outside world, reminded of what it is important to fight for. It’s also always in the delightful setting of the ex Cadbury family home at Woodbroke in Birmingham.
Does this sound refreshing? If so what are you doing on 19th and 20th June? If you are interested in discussions that are both thoughtful and practical, and on issues of profound significance to health care, do think of coming along.
This year I am one of the organisers and the theme is Flourishing, and more particularly Flourishing in Difficult Times. Our thesis is that while flourishing sounds like a luxury, a ‘nice-to-have’ that cannot be afforded in times of austerity, it is in hard times that it becomes of critical importance. After all, when money is short it is especially important not to make wrong choices about how to spend it, and our suggestion is that, if we focus on anything other than flourishing, that is just what we will do. Moving on from that we will explore practical ways in which this might be done.
Because contributors are encouraged to contribute ideas they themselves are exploring, these conferences allow fresh new thinking to meet reflective discussion. For that reason they can be difficult to promote – the contributors haven’t finalised their offering into a neat publicity- friendly title until too late to include on promotional material – so it can be a bit of a leap of faith to book!
Key speakers this year include the following (and remember that the description of their subject so underplays the richness with which it will be explored!):
Iona Heath – Immediate past president of the RCGP and inspiring, thoughtful contributor to the BMJ over many years. Iona will consider the role of kindness in flourishing.
Hugh Middelton – drawing on his wide ranging interests as consultant psychiatrist and sociologist Hugh will look at whether our modern conceptions of adversity prevent us from using it as an important stimulus to realising our potential.
And me, Valerie Iles. I am looking at the importance of acknowledging and anticipating death in our ability to flourish, and at dying as a setting in which we could flourish.
All of us will look at the practicalities of building our thinking into day- to- day service in the NHS, at simple ways in which flourishing could become core to the service.
But the heavy lifting of the thinking is done in small groups, reflecting together on the issues raised. So in the course of two days there will be a chance to think (both practically and philosophically) about:
What do we know about flourishing? How does a focus on flourishing lead us to making different choices from a focus on other things? How can we bring that insight into our everyday roles?
What does it mean for health care users to flourish? How would a focus on this be different to that of current health care? What would have to be different and how can we bring that about?
How can health professionals contribute to the flourishing of others and at the same time to their own? Are there simple, practical changes we could make that allow HCPs to flourish?
How can we support and encourage flourishing amidst ongoing and severe material health care inequalities?
How can we help people to flourish in the context of disease, diminishment, and death?
How can communities flourish and achieve their health and other potentials?
This year too we are ‘twinning’ with the Human Values for Health Forum conference on the same theme. This is held three weeks earlier on 2nd June, and Paquita de Zulueta has lined up a wonderfully star studded set of speakers: Mark Vernon, Oliver James, Edward Skidelsky, Hazel Stutely, and Anya de longh.
Each speaker will leave the audience with a question, a thought, or a challenge, for further discussion. Some of that discussion will take place on that day, but there will be further opportunities to explore these ‘gauntlets’ (thrown down for us to pick up) in our two days at Woodbroke.
If, like me, you value the combination of novel, quality thinking with practical implications, do come and join us on at least one of these two conferences. I think you will come away refreshed and re-energised. They are amazingly reasonably priced (all three days for less than a typical day at the Kings Fund), and just so different from what you will find elsewhere.
Book here for the two day Think About Health conference Flourishing in Difficult Times on June 19th and 20th
Book here for the HVHF conference Flourishing in Adversity on June 2nd.