Martin Plackard quivered with excitement as he sat down with a large mug of Fairtrade coffee and an artisanal pastry and fired up Twitter. Today was the NHS’s 70th birthday, the culmination of weeks of carefully choreographed emoting by Plackard, his fellow communications professionals and Twitter’s vast army of self-appointed leaders and opinion formers.
He was up an hour early. They would be out in their thousands today expressing joy, pride and humility. The opportunities for humblebragging, grandstanding and virtue-signalling were endless – and Plackard was not about to miss out.
Competition would be intense. Twitter was already awash with people hearting the NHS and being passionate about things. By nine o’clock the sound of self-congratulation would be deafening and by noon the heat generated by heart-warming anecdotes would be unbearable.
Plackard sent his first tweet of the day: “So proud to be working with such great colleagues and humbled by to be a leading part of their success, just as they are to play a modest role in mine #notjustaboutme #hellomynameismartin #humble #NHS70”
By mid-morning, Plackard would have gone on to tell a personal story that touched him deeply, expressed mild criticism of government policy on social care or mental health and outrage at one or more injustices. At lunchtime he would issue a strong call to action about something: “We must reach consensus on the need to aim to act as soon as possible in the very near future #change #eventually #brilliant #metoo”
Plackard’s Twitter profile declares him to be an NHS leader passionate about leadership and the NHS. It depicts a keen cyclist, park runner and occasional triathlete – which if not literally true, accurately represents Plackard’s sporting beliefs and aspirations.
He flicked through the profiles of other communicators he admired. They were depressingly similar. Most were shown in action poses – up a mountain, displaying a winner’s medal or covered in mud after a team building exercise. Some were pictured serving soup or handing out blankets to the homeless. Others cuddled bemused old people and tweeted that they were doing what they could to combat loneliness but “it is never enough #justdoingmybit”.
Plackard made a mental note to get down to the local care home for a photo shoot before the local authority closed it down. What, he wondered sadly, would people do for nostalgia porn to mark #NHS80, when there were no more war veterans or nurses who had started their careers in 1948? What would become of the compassionate selfie then? How would caring professionals show how much they cared?
He did not remain gloomy for long. If the history of the NHS taught us anything, he mused, it was the enduring power of humbug. “It’s humbling to think that even before we could tell people about it on social media, professionals like us were working tirelessly for change. Virtue is its own reward,” he typed. Plackard’s colleagues dutifully liked and retweeted his latest post. Several thanked him for his insight and leadership.
#NHS70 was not the end, but a new beginning, he decided. Such original ideas came easily to him – he would tweet about it later. Long after the last slice of birthday cake had been eaten, patients would still be turning up inappropriately at A&E, failing to show up for GP appointments, asking for antibiotics when they didn’t need them, smoking, drinking and eating the wrong things.
Fortunately, Plackard and his colleagues would be there to show them the error of their ways. Shame could be a powerful tool in the right hands. Did it matter that none of the people these messages were aimed at knew who Plackard was or followed him on Twitter? No, what mattered was that fellow professionals could plainly see that he was committed, selfless and unassuming.
Plackard deleted the large picture of a cake that had dominated his timeline for the past 12 months. He replaced it with a library shot of some Victorian urchins. He then deleted his wry profile with its dubious cycling claims and replaced it with an “I love the NHS” badge and three words that would tell the curious all they needed to know about Martin Plackard: “passionate about sincerity”.
Editor: Julian Patterson
Reproduced at TrainingPrimaryCare.com by kind permission of Julian Patterson.