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Earlier this week my Twitter timeline was full of happy and excited tweets about a national awards ceremony for health care organisations and individuals. A long-standing annual event where good practice is recognised with a London ceremony, a glittering slap-up dinner, and a chance to rub shoulders with the great and the good of health care provision. I saw many photographs of smiling faces, selfies of people in their sparkly frocks and dinner jackets, enjoying the moment. I didn’t think too much about it, award ceremonies come along fairly frequently in health care, and this is one of the oldest and most glamorous.

But then, embedded amongst the excited tweets, was one from someone questioning the appropriateness of such ceremonies, the financial outlay, the validity of the occasion, even the need for such flamboyance. The tweet contained a link to this website http://www.georgejulian.co.uk/2014/11/20/the-data-behind-celebrating-excellence-hsjawards/  At first, I felt a bit prickly about it – you know – what a shame to take the shine off something happy, and why are people so cynical? Then I read the blog and started to think about it, and found myself in a very conflicted position.

George Julian, the author of the blog, makes valid and worthwhile points about commercialisation, self-regard, subliminal marketing/income generation, and they are articulately and persuasively made. I could absolutely see her point. She supported her argument with data from the attending organisations, evidencing her challenge. Do read it, there is much food for thought there. On the other hand, I support public recognition of good practice, whatever the field, and the opportunity – particularly for more junior staff – to experience a big celebratory event where part of the recognition is that employers foot the bill.

After a little further reflection, I struggled to see good reasons for huge contingents of staff (well into double figures) to attend from an individual organisation and I completely agreed with the author that to accept awards when one’s organisation is under investigation for serious problems is crass and demonstrates the kind of insensitivity that should be anathema to award judging panels. But I wouldn’t go so far as to see them as unnecessary, or as an evil per se.

In my view, in order to avoid attracting criticism, attendance at these ceremonies needs careful thought, maybe a ceiling on price and costs to attendees, and better transparency in nominating and judging to avoid criticism about the ‘usual suspects’. It’s a tightrope to walk, but if sensibly managed should be acceptable. The sums spent are tiny drops in the ocean of organisations’ budgets, but still need careful rationale for spending. I think big, national awards have good intentions and help morale in most cases, but the proliferation of awards locally and nationally throughout health care particularly is troubling. It trivialises the recognition when so many are recognised, and for such a plethora of activity, and this in itself diminishes the value of the awards over time. As the currency diminishes, the criticism becomes more valid, and a downward spiral into cynicism becomes almost inevitable. And that would be a shame, not least for those proud winners, enjoying their recognition.

I don’t want to see these celebratory events disappear, or to become the object of cynicism. Perhaps the bigger award organisers could consider how to reverse this potential trend and keep their awards a little more rare and a lot more meaningful in so doing.

This blog is an elaboration of a comment made on the blog referenced above.

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