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  • Why Bother Trying, the least inspirational poem ever…

    Article information
    • UK
    • Accounts and narratives
    • Pre-existing
    • Original author
    • No
    • Tom Bell
    • 07/05/24
    • Everyone


    The following account and poem has been kindly shared with Patient Safety Learning by Tom Bell.


    My name is Tom Bell, I am a lived experience partner, an author, consultant, speaker, and trainer. I lost my sister Alison to suicide after she was abused in the care of an NHS mental health hospital and in a series of unrelated events many years later I was forced out my role as an NHS Manager in 2017 after raising concerns internally and then whistleblowing to the Care Quality Commission.

    Now I’m going to share a new version of a poem by Edgar Albert Guest. Some of you may be familiar with the original – this version is called Why Bother Trying, the least inspirational poem ever…


    Somebody said that it couldn’t be done, but he with a chuckle replied,

    Aye, you are probably right, I mean why bother trying, 

    It’s not like it matters, it’s only a question of living and dying.

    So they lowered their sights and their own and others expectations,

    After all they thought, it’s not as if Britain is one of the world’s wealthiest nations.


    Somebody scoffed oh you’ll never do that, at least no one has ever done it,

    To which they replied, oh I’m so glad you told us that before we began trying,

    Let’s not waste any more time trying to eliminate the number of people avoidably dying. 

    So they thought of things less demanding on which to focus their attention, 

    A new communications plan and a strategy away day to discuss their intentions.


    There are thousands to say it cannot be done, There are thousands to prophesy failure,

    There are thousands to point out to all one by one, The dangers that wait to assail.

    But if we just buckle in with a bit of a grin, if we can just take off our coats and go to it;

    If we start to sing as we tackle the thing they say cannot be done, then maybe, just maybe

    we can do it!


    We owe it to each other to dream impossible dreams, not run from the unbeatable foes,

    Let’s accept the quest to follow the star, ignore those who tell us it’s a journey too far,

    The fact is that we have to bother trying, after all this is a matter of living and dying.


    I believe the only approach to patient safety is the pursuit of zero avoidable harm. That doesn’t mean creating yet another meaningless arbitrary measure, a target to be used as a stick with which to beat people, or a number to be gamed, but an approach, a mindset, a philosophy. Yes, maybe a journey without an end point, but a worthy star to follow.

    Every stakeholder in the NHS needs to know the scale of the ambition. Crappy visions and missions of mediocrity inspire nobody. People want and need to be part of something aspirational, bigger than themselves. And most importantly of all, inspiring visions start wider conversations, they stimulate broader systems thinking, and raise new questions. Perhaps we can begin to ask not just whether health services are sustainable or can be made fit for the future; but can a future, a society, and health services be created in which we can achieve zero avoidable harm.

    Thank you.

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