An item on the Today programme this morning highlighted something that those of us with dogs have probably always known: not only are they our best friends, but they are also rather more effective than humans at using their brains in certain situations.
For example, dogs are much better at really quick decisions. They don't over-analyse once they have made their choice – they know what they know, and have confidence in their decision-making. Another area where they score more highly is in empathetic skills. We are familiar with assistance dogs working to enable people with sensory impairments and physical disabilities to manage their lives independently, sensing their needs as well as responding to commands. Families with a pet dog can attest to the fact that they will often break up an argument, by somehow getting between the opponents and changing the atmosphere by their presence and demands for some friendly attention.
The giant brains currently engaged in reforming the NHS could certainly do with a good dollop of dog sense. It is hard to understand how we have reached a situation where people working within one of the only parts of the economy where funding has not been cut, and where investment over the past decade has been really generous, should be talking about industrial action and claiming that patient services are under threat.
At the same time that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is saying that frontline posts are being cut, the Department of Health is pointing out that 2600 extra nurses have been employed in the past 15 months, and that there should be no need for patient care to be affected.
Both cannot be right. The problem may be that emotions and political prejudices are clouding decision-making processes. Some within the NHS might prefer to be able to associate reform with adverse effects on patients, rather than taking the opportunity to identify and eliminate waste and mismanagement.
The NHS is an institution that most of us have great affection for, but that doesn't mean that it can't be improved, and in the future, as medical technology advances and many of us live longer and make more demands on the service, its work will have to be done more efficiently.
The government has said that this is a time for them to pause and reflect on reform, to listen to what people have to say about it. They have shown themselves ready to change their minds in the face of strong opposition – on defence spending, for example. This time, perhaps they should stick to their guns on the need for change, and continue the fight to win support from the people who will be responsible for making a success or otherwise of the NHS project. The status quo is not an option, but driving through reform without engaging the hearts and minds of those whose working lives are at the centre of the change is unlikely to achieve the results we should all be hoping for.