Julie Bailey, campaigning leader

March 18, 2009

A community protest contributed to exposure of shocking deficiencies of standards in a Staffordshire NHS trust. The protest was led by Julie Bailey, an exemplar of service leadership

Julie Bailey initiated and then led the community-based movement from a local cafe. It turned out that a very different kind of research would draw official attention to potentially serious problems through a sophisticated analysis of medical records. It will be difficult to assess the contributions of the team of medical analysts within the health system, and local activists outside it to the unfolding dramatic events.

I am concentrating on the leadership behaviours shown locally, which came to light as the damning report was published, [March 17th 2009] with the news of replacement of the former leadership of the trust. The report focused on lack of resources, poor management, in over-concern for to meeting various targets which were indicators of good practice while becoming in denial over actual clinical care which the targets were intended to assess.

The BBC reported that

About 400 more people died at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2008 than would be expected, the Healthcare Commission said. [T]here were deficiencies at “virtually every stage” of emergency care and managers pursued targets to the detriment of patient care.

Julie Bailey was interviewed for the report. She told her story in clear and calm terms which reinforced its horrific message. It began with the immediate experience she witnessed when her mother was admitted to the trust in a scene of chaotic nature which she was to discover extended to entire wards of suffering patients. Her immediate reaction was to attempt to deal with the local situation and she appears to have stayed with her mother with increasing desperation and awareness that the lack of care extended extensively within the hospital (the eventual report found extreme mis-management within the accident and emergency system, as well as on the wards.

Bailey was to see her mother die with evidential poor care within a few weeks of admission. By then, her concern and anger had led to a strong drive to obtain justice for what had happened not just to one patient but to what she saw as an entire community touched by the practices of the Trust.

Initial attempts to obtain legal advice revealed how difficult it would be for one person of limited means to change a system, Julie Bailey succeeded in mobilizing people to create pressure which eventually made a difference.

A letter to a local paper confirmed that many others confirmed Bailey’s experience was not an isolated incident. A local protest group emerged. Julie Bailey seems to have been the voice on its behalf. Its efforts are still low-key in publicity terms, and I had trouble finding out much through web searches.

Her video reveals someone who took the lead demonstrating a combination of resilience and unwavering commitment to a cause against the odds. This was in face of discouragement from experienced professionals, and apparent disinterest from politicians.

What is special about Julie Bailey?

Students of leadership will benefit from studying the case. Initial reports suggest that much more is to be learned about its context. One immediate impression is how she could stand in great contrast to the received stereotype of a charismatic leader. She has a moving personal style of delivery. But it takes its power from its ordinariness and calmness in communicating a story which is extra-ordinary. I can imagine her drawing strength through being a channel though which voices of many others touched by this episode become heard.

Charismatic leadership? Transformational leadership? Creative leadership? I’m not sure. Servant or service leadership? Maybe, although the concept needs more attention than it has received to date.