Whether you love or dread that week in July when the health service seems to assemble in a window-less hall in one of the provinces and takes over all the adjacent bars, this guide will help you navigate the week and impart information you won’t necessarily find in the conference brochure.
1. Arrival: as soon as you arrive at the exhibition identify which of the stands is giving away mints and water. This might not seem important but it is (see point 7). If you only do one thing on this list – do this.
2. Know your place: when picking up your pass at the entrance, find out and memorise what the different coloured lanyards mean – also known as the ‘Confed caste system’. This will aid your networking (see points 4 and 6) by allowing you to brown-nose speakers and avoid those with an exhibitor-only pass.
3. Dress code: contrary to popular belief ‘NHS manager chic’ is not on trend this year, it wasn’t last year and our contacts at Vogue New York are pretty sure it won’t be next year either. Please, no Radley handbags, ice-white pant suits or anything from ‘Designer at Debenhams’, especially not the matching shoes, dress and eye shadow range.
4. Networking: a quick drink with ex colleagues = good. Introducing yourself to the CEO of the organisation you’ve identified for your next career move = ok. Declaring your undying love to the NHS Medical Director (see point 7) = probably not. Begging the HSJ editor to include your funny story in endgame = never, never, never.
5. Questions in sessions: please keep them short and do try to desist with the self-promotion. No we don’t care who you are, how long you’ve been working in the NHS and how you single-handedly reduced your trusts HSMR by 10 points and convinced the consultants to wear short-sleeve shirts.
6. Socialising: there are always a number of parties and dinners and its difficult to a) find out where they are b) get yourself invited. It’s probably best to stalk someone you deem to be ‘in the know.’ (Hint: use the lanyard system in point 2 as a guide). Pick them up at one of the stand Champagne receptions that usually start about 3pm and stick close as they move round the hall swigging Cava and name-dropping. By about stand four you’ll be bosom buddies and they’ll tell you the name of the designated bar for later. If all else fails, claim to be the CEO of NHS Manchester East. There are so many reorganisations this year you’ll be waved in. Alternatively give Pam Garside a call.
7. Day two: as soon as you arrive at the conference make a beeline for the stand identified in point one. Despite the promises to yourself you will be hung-over, that ‘one drink’ with an ex-colleague will have turned into a six-hour session and you will have vague flashbacks of dancing at the McKinsey party with Bruce Keogh. The only things that will get you through your chosen seminar (almost inevitably introduction to QIPP with Jim Easton) will be those mints and water.
8. B*llshit bingo: anyone heard to say any of the following will automatically receive a life time ban from any of the cool drinks parties (see point 6):
Waste of public money
Meeting our QIPP targets
I can’t see the patient in any of this
Stephen Dorrell will soon be Secretary of State
9. Freebies: We’re no expert on the bribery act but it probably is acceptable to fill your (now obligatory) cloth bag with all the crap those rich lawyers and private sector companies can afford to give away: trolley coins, pedometers and mouse mats can make useful Christmas presents after all. However it is not acceptable to grab the snazzy pen-that-is-also-a-torch and run away. At least humour these salesmen with five minutes of your time and maybe let them scan your badge and chalk you up as a ‘sales lead.’ The exception to this is of course the mints and the water (see points 1 and 7). Get in, grab and leave the arena.
10.Finally, knock off early on the Friday as anything interesting Nicholson has to say will be tweeted by Alastair McLellan. Head for the train and if you insist on conducting your worst outfit / who met who in the broom cupboard / most boring person at the conference debrief on the train, do try to remember do to so sotto voce, as half the NHS will be on that train with you with pricked ears.
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