Sunday, 26 December 2010

Turkeys, Hens, Christmas Families and Beware Wise Men Bearing Gifts!

Once upon a time there was a little brown Hen called Jen. On the first day that Jen arrives at the farm she discovers that she is fed at 8am. Being a cautious Hen, Jen doesn’t jump to any conclusions. She makes a series of observations, and records what happens every morning, whether the day is a Monday or a Wednesday, whether there is rain or shine, and so on. Jen finds that whatever the day, or the weather, she is always fed at 8am. And so eventually Jen has collected enough data to infer ‘I am always fed at 8am’. Unfortunately, the day before yesterday was Christmas Eve, and Jen didn’t get fed…

…this is a seasonal tale often told by philosophy lecturers to their new students when discussing predictability and logic. Usually Jen is a turkey and not a Hen. Whether it is Turkeys or Hens, the moral remains the same. It doesn’t matter how much evidence we might accumulate about what has happened in the past, such evidence absolutely cannot provide us with any logical guarantee about the future.

Actually it was Bertrand Russell who is credited with the original telling of this story, and he did use Hens as his example. The contextual anchor of Christmas Eve is my addition to the story. Whilst Russell, a philosopher, mathematician, social critic and Nobel Prize winner, was an important contributor to our understanding of life, the universe and everything, it is his protégé Ludwig Wittgenstein who comes to my mind when thinking about Christmas.

Over Christmas people are often forced to spend longer periods of time together. Perhaps as a consequence of this, more than 1.8m couples in the UK contemplate divorcing their partner during the Christmas period. Relate, the UK's largest provider of relationship support, said the trend to start divorce proceedings in January follows a 50% surge in the number of calls over the festive period. Arguably, many of these problems have their origins in people’s early life experiences – and Wittgenstein was no exception.

Whilst he was undoubtedly a huge influence on philosophical thinking, his personal life and background were tortuous. He was born into one of the wealthiest families in Vienna at the turn of the century, yet he gave away his massive inheritance and first worked as a teacher and gardener. He was homosexual, at a time when homosexuality was not tolerated and three of his brothers committed suicide. Both Wittgenstein and his other surviving brother contemplated suicide too. His Father was a harsh perfectionist who it is said, lacked empathy, and his Mother was said to be anxious and insecure, and unable to stand up to her husband.

In 1908 Wittgenstein came to Manchester to study for his PhD at Victoria University of Manchester, staying at the Grouse Inn, near Glossop during this time. Clearly there was room for him at this particular Inn. What wouidn't be available to him however was any form of support for people struggling to deal with the stresses, strains and troubles of everyday life. Today, the Samaritans provide confidential non-judgemental emotional support, 24 hours a day for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide. However, the Samaritans are also available to talk to everyone who is worried about something, feels upset or confused, or just wants to talk to someone – they can be contacted on 08457 90 90 90. 

Yesterday many of my family came to celebrate Christmas and we had a great time. Possibly we all ate and drank too much, but there were no disagreements or stress, just good cross-generational fun. It was lovely to see the expression on my eldest granddaughters face as she got her first bike and even the missing Brussel sprouts didn’t dampen spirits. From the early morning walk in the fields covered with snow to the last malt whiskey drunk before bed, it was a wonderful day.

Interestingly, my eldest daughter is called Jennifer, but yesterday she was constantly called Jen, even by me on one occassion! And as for Bertrand Russell’s Jen the Hen, she was probably right when she said, beware the [wise] man who bears gifts, after all, chickens are for Christmas, not for life! Enjoy the holiday, and live every day as if its the first day of the rest of your life.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

360 degrees Later, Blood, Sweat, but No Big Mac or Tears

Trauma, intrigue, small p politics, and the triumph of expectation over experience might be the best way to sum up my experiences last week! The week was a hectic diverse and challenging one.

The University has been running a Leadership Programme for its senior leadership team. One of the activities that have occurred recently was the completion of something called a 360 degree review. Essentially, this was a task that involved asking our managers, peers and those that know us, to make a judgment on what they considered to be our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to leadership. I had asked 16 colleagues to become involved in providing this information on how they saw my leadership style, behaviour and approach. The result of their assessment was given to me this week. It was an interesting mixture of views, but taken as a whole, can only be described as being highly authentic! On reflection I see my colleagues responses as being somewhat of a mandate to continue the processes of change and transformation that will get us to where we need to be as a School in 2017.

One of the best parts of the week for me was the day spent with a great bunch of young people who had agreed to give us their time to talk about their experiences of being in care, receiving care or as a care giver. These were powerful stories to hear. The stories were confidently presented but the emotionality of the telling of their experiences touched all in the room. It was almost painful to hear how so many of these young people, carer’s and cared for, had been let down by the system set up to provide for their health and well being.

So it was with no little discomfort that I realized the following day that we had provided lunch for the young people without thinking about their wants and needs. The Brie and sundried tomato sandwiches might have alright for us, but I had the sense the young people would have preferred a Big Mac. The Big Mac is a burger sold by McDonalds, (the fast food chain, not MacDonald’s the hotel chain). In fact the Big Mac is one of the best selling burgers of all time - over 47 billion have been sold, with some 550 million sold every year, which is a lot of cows.

Interestingly, I did have a delightful meal this week where the starter was Black Pudding. Now as regular readers will know, I am a vegetarian, so what was I doing eating a dish that is fundamentally a blood based food? Indeed, when I was 15 years old I bought into the urban myth about students who used their own blood to make a substantial and sustainable food that was called black pudding. My black pudding however, was made of soya, coloured with beetroot juice, and was delicious.

Blood has also featured in other ways this week. I had a conversation with our VC during which I found out the University has in its archives, a wealth of material belonging to Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan holds the number two spot in the Rolling Stone 500 best albums ever chart – he was second to the Beatles who had 11 of their albums in the chart – Bob Dylan had 10. Occupying three of the slots in the top 20, it is the album Blood on the Tracks (16th) released in 1975, that will forever be one of my favourite Bod Dylan albums. Unlike his earlier work, which was based upon the politcal and protest, these songs were unusually autobiographical in nature and tell the poetic tale of Dylan and his (unknown) lover.

Of course back in 1975, in common with all my friends I could see all the plots and subplots represented in each of the tracks. But perhaps like, Levi-Strauss, who in 1966, used the analogy of the artist who produces an object created on canvas, which does not exist as such, and yet is open to all kinds of interpretation, I was simply discovering new possibilities or understandings about what the songs might mean.

However, there was no doubt about the unacceptable organisational unpleasantness I witnessed this week. Frustratingly, there was not a lot I could do to help except be there for those concerned, and to say whilst there might be blood and sweat spilt, seize the moment and going forward its unlikely there will be any tears!

Finally, a new record was set yesterday morning for the time spent clearing my drive of snow. Some 10 inches of snow had fallen overnight on Friday/Saturday morning. Where the snow had drifted in the wind, it was much deeper. It took five hours to clear the drive. I started at 7am, and by 9am there were six of us working on clearing the snow. We finished at 12 noon. Plenty of blood and sweat – (and if truth were told), tears were spilt as having cleared the drive, by 12.10 the snow returned and laid down another 1 inch. Only seven days left till Christmas!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A Long and Winding Road Taken and One Still to Travel

Last week was characterised by performance, a brief encounter with a youthful experience and the challenge of intellectual debate. Monday was a day full of meetings, some of which were difficult and had outcomes that some would not have wanted to hear.

The day ended with an open meeting at which, colleagues and external partners could attend to hear some wonderful examples of research and innovation from across the University being presented. Despite the cold, it was -6 outside, there were over 60 people in attendance. The only down side to the event (at least for me) was the showing, yet again, of the University Research DVD – I still find it slightly disconcerting to see a 15 foot high projection of myself describing the research we do.  

Tuesday started with yet more meetings and then I had the chance to present a report on the outcomes of the recent REF Impact Pilots to the Units of Assessment Advisors. I think the sheer amount of work required to get us prepared came as a surprise to many of the participants. It was however, a very productive meeting and raised a number of issues that we will have to come back to. At lunch time, I had my last Editorial meeting with my Nurse Education in Practice colleagues. After four years of involvement on the editorial board, I am leaving the Board. I will retain an International Advisor role, so will still be able to influence the direction of what is one of the best international nurse education journals. Thanks Karen for the opportunity.

The day ended with the latest in the Professorial College presentations. This sessions talk was given by Sharon Rushton on Place, Text and Memory. Sharon made a superb bid for having this work recognised as the 7th University wide theme. The fact that she mentioned our School in her presentation was very generous and perhaps reflects where the relationship between our respective Schools has got to. I think a great future of productive collaboration is assured.

Wednesday started with a meeting with the Schools Students Union Sabbatical Officer Caroline – always a pleasure, this meeting was particular good – Caroline has such a refreshingly grounded view of the world – we did however talk about the march planned for that afternoon in opposition to the proposed increase in annual students fees. Unlike the demonstrations in London, the march in Manchester was trouble free.

Our celebration of five years of service user and carer involvement in the work of the School followed. It was great, a real family celebration, and thanks to  Martin (VC) and Neil (NHS North  West) for coming and supporting our work.

Senate followed, and the VC mentioned the celebration in his verbal report. It was some welcome recognition of the work many colleagues have put into developing these relationships over such a long period of time. I spent the remaining few hours with my mentor and by 22.30 on Wednesday I had clocked up 40 hours work (and that was just the time spent being at the University).

Thursday was spent catching up on my writing, and despite the email interference, it was still possible to get some work done. A draft of a paper with Mikko et al revised and sent off, a 3rd draft paper with Sue and Joanne, revised and prepared, ready to send off to the publishers, which looked at the ethics of mental health nursing, and a quick look at a draft paper with colleagues from Ireland, Richard and Liam.
Friday was our School Development day. The first hour was School Congress. We decided that on this occasion we adopt a Pecha Kucha approach to allowing people to get their points across. Pecha Kucha (Japanese for chit chat) is a form of communication that allows people 20 power point slides, which get shown for no more than 20 seconds each (a total presentation of 6 minutes 20 seconds) and which uses images as the preferred way of communicating. We had six tremendous presentations, (although we might need to work on the timing). The ‘serious’ part of the day was looking at the impact of the recent changes to Equality Legislation on the activities of the School. Many thanks to Lis who led on our examination of the issues involved and presented a very understandable analysis of the main changes to the law.

However, in the afternoon, as we started to look at the issues in detail, and  the discussion unfolded, it seemed to me that some of thinking that may have so often held us back as a profession  is still there, despite much rhetoric to the contrary.  The catalyst for our discussion were the changes we need to make in moving away from being a recruiting School to a selecting School. We anticpate having some 6000 applications this year and that is after raising the entry requirements. In the ensuing conversations it was still possible to hear the somewhat romantic notion of a nurse as an Angel being defended. This notion was was presented in terms of widening particpaton, and arguements that for some people, not having good academic qualifications wouldn't prevent them from being a good nurse.  The latter is possibly true, but such  notions are the demons that plague our profession. Who can forget Gordon Brown, the former UK Prime Minister addressing the RCN shortly after the death of his daughter by thanking the nursing profession for the help they received as a family:

‘So we feel like parents who have been in the presence of angels dressed in nurses' uniforms, performing the most amazing works of mercy and care, and I will never forget seeing in real time every minute of the day that idea of service and selflessness. I am here with Sarah to say not just thank you from our family, but thank you from millions upon millions of families’.

I had to leave the School Development Day early than I had anticipated – and I have since heard the discussion was very good - but later on as I reflected on what I heard, I was reminded of the story of Eva O, (of metallic death rock and punk music fame) who in the middle of her career, and as a result of her somewhat complicated relationship difficulties, wanted to write a dark concept album about angels. During this time, Eva began searching the literature on this subject. Her album was initially entitled Angels Fall for a Demon's Kiss. At first she read only the literature that approached the subject from a new age point of view and finding this one dimensional view limiting, Eva decided to look for more traditional sources and incredibly read Billy Graham’s book entitled Angels. After reading the book, Eva rewrote the album, subsequently entitling it Demons Fall for an Angel's Kiss a somewhat subtle but important shift in perception.

In a crowded and busy world it is easy to see how we can convince ourselves that taking the easy path to change is the right course of action, even if this means not changing.  There is still a long way to go in developing our profession, and I believe we need to constantly find ways of addressing the issues that hold back this development - but at times this can be a hard and wearying task. At the end of a busy week, I briefly experienced that sense of weariness. As I was just about to leave for the weekend, I stood for a moment in quiet contemplation in my darkened office, and wondered if I (and my demons) were in danger of falling for an Angels kiss. However, as I sit and write this blog, the new week beckons. Like last week, it will be full of many opportunities to take things forward and perhaps in so doing, will enable some of those demons to be banished!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Making the Familiar Strange and the Art of Noisy Futures

I have become a mean, lean, snow clearing machine. For four days last week I had to get up early and clear the drive in order we could get the cars out. It was hard work, especially at 5am in the morning, with a full day’s work still to come. Yesterday the snow was replaced by rain which has frozen overnight making it treacherous underfoot this morning. However, the snow and cold weather gave rise to some fantastic photos capturing the big freeze. I liked this one from the front page of Thursday’s Times newspaper.

This week I stayed overnight in the V+A for a two day College Executive Retreat.  Now many regular readers of this blog will know that the V+A is not my favourite hotel in the world - somehow, the V+A never really presses my buttons. This time the experience was different, for once the ambiance of the hotel faded into the background. I was taken up by the conversations and for me the two days were a kind of Unconditional Positive Regard meets Uncomplicated Transactional Relationships. If this description of the two days sounds a little hard, cold and unappetizing, in real life this was not the case.

We were there to consider, as a College what our future might look like. Some aspects of our future were known, (for example reductions in commissions, the need to grow our research base and so on) whereas at other times we appeared to be missing important bits of information, so our discussions were self limiting. I found myself living out the theoretical constructs I so often write, speak and publish about. I was at the edges of knowledge, and knowing in that place of not knowing. I haven’t been there for a while and it was both an exciting place and also slightly frightening.

As a School, the world we have inhabited for so long has changed, and there is much we now don’t know. Albert Einstein said that the ‘most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious’ – and the only certain thing about our future is the degree of uncertainty we face, but where we go is entirely up to us as individuals and collectively as a School and College. Some may see the future as being filled with problems; I see it as being filled with challenges and opportunities.

It is clear to me, that as a School, alongside the great work that is going on developing the best new nursing degree programme possible for September 2011, we need to think about our futures in other directions. We have some good, very attractive and relevant programmes in our portfolio. So for example, whilst we might not be unable to provide these to overseas students as currently approved, there are  opportunities to think about how these programmes could be facilitated using new and different approaches.

Doing this won’t be easy. During the two days of conversations and interactions, I was reminded of the work of Luigi Russolo. He was the world’s first noise artist. In 1913 he wrote, L'Arte dei Rumori, translated as the Art of Noises. This work explored how the changes made possible by the industrial revolution had given rise to the opportunity to move away from the confines of traditional music to something more complex, something new yet still familiar.

Russolo designed and constructed a number of noise-generating devices and assembled a noise orchestra to perform with them. However, in his early days these performances were met with outcry and even violence from critics and audiences alike. Others saw his work as seminal and influential. One of my favorite groups of the early eighties took his work as the name for their group. The Art of Noise was an avant-garde electronic group who mastered the use of digital sampling, an approach which eventually gave rise to the hugely important dance music scene.

Sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample of one sound recording (often very familiar and well known lyric or piece of music) and reusing it over and over again, but in slightly different ways to the original in order to create new music. This approach is exactly what we need to do with our programmes, not only in the School, but across the College. But like Russolo, I think this might be a more difficult task to achieve than describe.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Visiting Freud and Mandela's homes and Freire's thoughts

Last wednesday I was in London to discuss (amongst other things) how we might best involve services users in the assessment of student nurses. As I was two or three stops away from Finchley Road Tube Station, I very cheekily took an hour off and when across to visit the Freud Museum, in Hampstead. I had always wanted to go and the opportunity was too good to miss. The museum is actually in the house that became the home of Sigmund Freud and his family when they escaped the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. The house stayed as a family home for Anna Freud, who died in 1982.

She lived in the house for 44 years and during this time continued to develop her pioneering psychoanalytic work, especially with children. It was Anna Freud's wish that when she died the house would become a museum to honour the work of her father. Somewhat fortunately, when they left Austria, they were able to bring all their furniture and Freud's enormous collection of different artefacts.

The house was an absolute oasis of peace and calm. It was hard to believe that just a 100 meters away was one of the main roads into and out of London. The centrepiece of the house was Freud's study. This had been left just as it had been during his lifetime. It was crammed to bursting with his huge collection of Egyptian, Greek and Oriental antiquities, many of which were ancient figures related to birth, fertility and early life.

For me, however, the most exciting element in the room was Freud's couch. The couch, covered in a richly coloured Iranian rug and bright cushions had presence. Freud's chair, battered but still functional was placed at the head of the couch. This was the very couch that the Wolfman (amongst others) had lain and conversed with Freud. Just being there was a hugely emotional moment.

It was sad that everything was roped off – but perhaps that is more a reflection of the state of our society. Strangely, while I was there I recalled also going to Nelson Mandela's house in Soweto.

Like Freud, Mandela's house in Soweto has become the Mandela Family Museum. However, unlike Freud’s house, in Mandela's house I was able to sit on his bed. Although not as grand a building as Freud's London house, visiting Mandela's former home provides for an equally emotionally turbulent experience.

Mandelas house is where the 1976 students' uprising began, where the youth leadership met to change the face of South Africa. Close by, in Vilakazi Street, is Desmond Tutu's house. Of course it is worth remembering that both Mandela and Tutu are Nobel Peace Prize winners. Like Freud's house, Mandela’s home has come symbolise the huge changes to society when oppressors are challenged and change occurs.

Sometimes, oppression can be slow and insidious. It was, for example, Florence Nightingale who warned nurses to keep the integrity of the nursing profession distinct from that of medicine. Despite her belief that Nursing's difference makes a difference in healing, she noted that in a hospital setting, nursing as a profession had tended to beome subsumed under medicine and in so doing, often displayed the characteristics of an oppressed group.

I was reminded of this while reading one of my student's draft doctoral thesis this week. Interestingly for me, part of the theoretical basis of the data analysis drew upon the work of Paulo Freire and in particular his classic ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’.

Whilst there is not time or room in this blog to explore his ideas I recommend to readers to have a look at his work. However is it just me or is there an uncanny physical likeness between Freire and Freud.

Answers on a postcard please!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Gaining a Chair, Finding a Seat, and the Impact of Edinburgh

I had a great week! Monday was a 6 – 6 back to back meetings day. However, for much of Tuesday I was able to get off the meeting merry-go-around and spend some quality time with great colleagues interviewing some powerful candidates for our Professor in Midwifery post. It was an extraordinary and privileged day to part of. Each of the candidates had prepared well and the quality of the interviews and presentations was high. We were able to make an appointment, and if everything goes as planned, we should have a new Chair in Midwifery early in the New Year!

Wednesday was the School Executive Planning Day. This time was an opportunity to think about what we had achieved during the last 12 months and what needed to be considered for the next 12 months. It was clear that our world had changed dramatically. As a group we explored how to build upon the progress made to date. It was good to recognize the contributions made by colleagues across the School, and it was reassuring to know that in such a turbulent time for the University and public sector we had access to some wonderfully skilled and knowledgeable colleagues. Early Wednesday evening I got on a train and headed for Edinburgh.

This is a journey I have long hankered after doing. Up to now I have only flown to Edinburgh. I was an External Examiner at Dundee University for a number of years, and would regularly fly up to Edinburgh and then be picked up in a chauffeur driven limousine and taken to Dundee. It was very swish but slightly embarrassing. Doing the same journey by train was something I had long looked forward to. The countryside between Manchester and Edinburgh is some of the best in the country. Unfortunately, on Wednesday evening it was dark, the train was overcrowded and very cold.

Thankfully for me, I have a very effective PA’s. I never have to worry about getting a seat as she always makes sure I have a reserved seat, sitting at a table facing the way to train is travelling. She works out my travel arrangements with a degree of precision that I think is fantastic – and for me such arrangements have been totally reliable. And so it was on this occasion. While many people struggled to get on the train and find a seat, I was able to get to mine and sit down and start working before the train had left the station. It is Jennie’s birthday this week, so many happy returns – 21 again!

I was in Edinburgh on behalf of our Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation. I was there to attend a working group meeting looking at the results of the recent pilot projects aimed at capturing and presenting case studies of the impact of research undertaken by Universities. Impact will form a new and major part of the next REF exercise in 2014, and much preparation is in hand collating research outputs (publications) and developing the kind of high quality case studies required to demonstrate the reach of research.

 David Sweeney (the irrepressible Scot who heads up the Research, Innovation and Skills Directorate of the Higher Education Funding Council (England)) was quick to point out the importance in the recent Governmental Comprehensive Spending Review of being able to demonstrate the return on the investment made for research for the wider British society. Although research funding was to be cut, the extent of the cut was reduced by being able to show this impact.

I ate my lunch with a colleague from the Scottish Agriculture College, Edinburgh. Interestingly, his College and ours had much in common. For example, both Colleges undertake research into gait analysis, we do this with people, he was doing his with cows – but we both do it in exactly the same way. Likewise we work in geographically diverse locations, yet we both have to deal with many similar socio-economic and demographic issues.

 I came away from the day realising that we had a great deal of work to do. Simply getting four papers published was not going to be enough. Demonstrating Impact was going to be a very different challenge. However, papers that might form the foundation of the evidence base might more often from practice based publications NOT high impact journals. Finally, the day taught me it was possible to provide the evidence of the impact of our research – it won’t be easy, but it is possible, and going forward, this will be the most important thing we have to achieve.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Ben and Being a Nurse, Goodbye Gorecki (and Beasley?) and Breathtaking Burma!

I was in London last Wednesday. I had been invited to present a paper on the need for nurse educationalists to find more creative ways to prepare students for the emotionality of practice. The event was sponsored by the Health Service Journal and the Nursing Times, and was aimed at developing mental health nursing services for the future. It was a great opportunity to not only talk about the good work going on internationally within the mental health nurse education community of practice, but also to talk more specifically about the approaches we have started to develop here in the School of Nursing & Midwifery at Salford.

Throughout the day, the debate was high level. I was pleased that my thoughts on the differences in preparing individuals to ‘be’ nurses rather than producing individuals to ‘do’ nursing was well received. There was real interest from the Chief Executives and other managers responsible for delivering mental health services in why developing a future practitioner who would be comfortable (and perhaps uncomfortable) at working at the edges of knowing and not knowing was an important ambition to work towards.

I was able to have a conversation with Ben Thomas, Director of Mental Health and Lead Nurse for the Department of Health. He was at the event to speak about the new Mental Health Strategy. It was clear that there will be more opportunities (and challenges) for mental health nurses arising from what are likely to be more innovative developments in the provisions of future services for people with a mental health problem.

The sad part to Friday, was hearing that Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki had died. Gorecki was a Polish musician, perhaps most famous for his Third Symphony (the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs). I discovered his music while I was writing up my PhD thesis. At the time I was house sitting for friend who had a cottage on an island in Morecambe Bay (yes there is one). Twice a day the island was complete cut of by the tide. One afternoon, bored with writing my thesis, I started to look through the CD collection and came across Gorecki’s Third Symphony. I played the music and was captivated by the sadness and emotionality of what is a very haunting collection of music and songs. The main inspiration for the piece was the suffering and survival of those imprisoned in Auschwitz, and his own experiences of living with numerous health problems. As a young boy, Gorecki suffered tuberculosis and spent long periods in hospital receiving treatment, but he was plagued by serious illness throughout his life.

Released in 1992, over the next year the CD sold over a million copies. The success of this work pleased and puzzled Gorecki. No one, he observed, could explain why this music had been successful. ‘Perhaps people, especially young people, find something they need in this piece of music, something they are seeking’. He was reported to have said that: ‘If they are buying my disc rather than cigarettes, I am saving lives all the time'.

Friday I was in Wolverhampton for the Mental Health Nurse Academics (UK) meeting. As usual the day was partly about networking and catching up with colleagues from around the UK. The lunch time talk was around whether the Chief Nursing Officer’s post at the Department of Health would become a victim of the CSR cuts. With Dame Christine Beasley expected to step down next March there was a real sense that the Coalition Government will remove the post as part of its reforms. The post holder advises the government of the day on nursing policy and provides professional leadership to nurses across England. Nursing is by far the largest element of the workforce and accounts for most of the expenditure in the NHS. Being without such a high profile nurse voice in Government would not serve the profession or service users well. Wolverhampton also provided the most bizarre moment of the week. Before getting back onto the train home, I found myself standing amidst the Wolverhampton rush hour traffic and Friday night shoppers, speaking to my boss who happened to be in India at the time. Trying to have a sensible conversation in such circumstances was difficult, and the fact we were able to even attempt to talk in this way was surreal.

And the best news of the week, Aung San Suu Kyi being allowed to walk to freedom from house arrest in Burma today. It was a brilliant and breathtaking moment for both Aung San and Burma.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Remember, remember the 7th November?

November 7th is the 311th day of the year. There are now less than 50 days left before Christmas. The 7th also brings to a close British Sausage Week and last night we cooked and ate a few as we stood around our fireworks bonfire. This year we had six or seven young children join us, and I was surprised to hear that Guy Fawkes, does not get talked about in Schools anymore and the children had no idea what the ‘Guy’ on top of the fire symbolised. It seems that some of our history is being lost.

One group that does much too preserve our history and in particular our social and medical past is the Welcome Trust. The 7th November this year saw the last 'Nuns, Nurses and Nightingale's' themed tour of artefacts that trace the history of nursing, from informal care of the sick at home by family members, to a religious duty to trained vocational nurse, and ultimately to the autonomous professional we know today. I thought the focus for this event was interesting particularly as many nursing colleagues hold strong and disparaging views about the pharmaceutical industry and drug company sponsorship of training and other organisational events for health care staff.

Whilst I respect the right for others to hold these views, like most things, there are different aspects to every situation. For example, it was Sir Henry Wellcome who founded the Wellcome Trust. Wellcome co-founded a multinational pharmaceutical company. It was this company that developed many of the techniques still in use today to promote, branding and advertise medicines. Although amassing great wealth, Wellcome also funded pioneering medical research, and over the last 70 years the Welcome Trust has spent millions of pounds on research to improve our understanding of disease and to enable the development of treatments.

In January 1995, the Wellcome Trust Trustees sold most of their remaining interest in Wellcome to Glaxo, to form a new company, Glaxo Wellcome. This company merged in 2000 with SmithKlineBeecham creating GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and its annual spend on research increased to over £650 million a year. It is an inheritance that continues to contribute to the promotion of our health and well being.

I find it somewhat amusing then that Guy Fawkes is remembered (by a certain generation at least) in somewhat fond terms, yet he was a villain and a very unpleasant man. Unhealthy we tend to celebrate the 5th of November (Fireworks night) with fireworks and bonfires, baked potatoes, hotpot and treacle toffee and usually copious amounts of alcohol. Yet Sir Henry Welcome and all that he stood for, and the legacy he left for us all is often seen in such prejudiced terms because of perceptions of the relationship between profit and exploitation. Perhaps philanthropy (Sir Henery) like religion (Guy Fawkes) will always give rise to much misunderstanding.     

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Traffic Jams, Birthday Cake, and Quails Eggs Protests

It feels like I have driven up and down the M6 motorway too many times this week. The M6 is one of the longest motorways in the UK at 232.2 miles long. It took some 50 years to build, and at times if feels like you might have been travelling on it for as long. In my experience the Manchester to Birmingham section often resembles a slow moving car park for long periods of the day. This is precisely what the M6 was like on Thursday this week. Foolishly, I had decided to drive to Stafford University rather than take the train as I was due to attend a meeting later on that same evening at Holmes Chapel, some 25 miles apart and thought this would be the easiest way to get to both venues. In the end it took three hours to make a journey that should normally take at the most just 90mins. I was not impressed.

I was going to Stafford University as an External Examiner on a PhD Viva. I am always happy to be involved in these events, particularly when they involve hearing about the research of nurses or midwives. Less than 10% of nurses in the UK have a PhD, so I was very pleased that on this occasion the candidate defended their thesis well, and we were able to recommend the award was made. It was also great that he was a mental health nurse who had drawn upon my work in constructing his thesis.

Back on the M6 and the journey back to Holmes Chapel was a tortuous affair. The slow moving traffic, that in the morning had been overwhelming going southbound, seemed to have transferred to the northbound carriageways. It was a slow, frustrating and tiring journey back.

So it was with some trepidation that I started my journey yesterday morning down to Cardiff. For much of the journey one has to use the M6. I was on my way to celebrate my Fathers birthday, 30 guests were due to attend and most of the food was in the back of the car. Thankfully, the road was completely clear, the sun shone, and the autumnal colours were magnificent. The party was a success and a good time was had by all. The guests were family and friends. Among the group there was a teacher, midwife, financial regulator, falconer (complete with a miniature Peruvian Owl), a trainee policeman, house wives and house husbands, plumber, and lots of grandchildren. The conversations were often rich with description and difference.

One of my brothers told of how the social unrest in his part of Surrey (Kingston-upon-Thames) had reached new heights of unacceptability. It appears that the local youth make their protest known by throwing quails eggs at people’s property. He was deadly serious. I couldn’t quite imagine however, young people being so disaffected that they took themselves off to the local Waitrose store to purchase a dozen quails eggs to throw at peoples windows. Social protest is slightly different up here in the North.

The journey back from Cardiff along the M6 took just over three hours and was uneventful, and in a strange way calming. Happy Birthday Dad!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Holidays, Hearing Hopes Dashed, and Emails Ignored

Well last week was great. I was on holiday in Scotland, on the Solway Coast, and the sun shined. The Gulf Stream weather kicked in and it was wall to wall sunshine and clear, clear days. The light was fantastic, the air fresh and I was able to really get away from it all. I notched up six books read (all novels of course!) and when not reading or resting my eyes, I walked. For those of you who have not been to this part of the world, you can walk for miles on rolling hills without seeing another person, stroll on deserted white beaches, with just the waves for company, and trek through forests that are so vast that it defies one’s ability to comprehend the scale of planting.

Cello acted as if he had never had it so good. Last time we were up here he was plagued by ticks and became poorly, was miserable and generally did not enjoy himself. However, this time, thanks to the wonders of veterinary science (which as we know, is akin to the wonders of medical science) he was kept safe and was able to bound up mountains, leap streams, swim in the sea, and generally had a great time!

As the week progressed, I felt strangely quite guilty. There I was relaxing and having a good time, while elsewhere, many others were awaiting the outcomes of the UK Governments Comprehensive Spending Review. Much had been trailed before, and as a School Executive we have spent some time thinking about the possible scenarios arising from a reduction in our income and in the resources of our partner organisations. When the announcement came, I watched it live on TV and my feelings of guilt and depression rose to new levels. It seemed to me that the consequences of what was being proposed would, for all of us, be far reaching, and likely last for many years to come.

That I was almost completely deaf during this time was of little consequence. Having self diagnosed tinnitus a few weeks ago, I finally went to the GP, who, surprisingly swiftly, diagnosed a wax in the ear problem. He said the treatment was simple. All it required was olive oil (virgin) drops applied to both ears twice a day and then having both ears syringed. Getting the olive oil was easy, well once I got past the ‘health and safety’ inquisition from the Tesco pharmacy assistant. Getting someone to syringe my ears was much more problematical.

In Bolton, those requiring such treatment must ring a central telephone number. I rang, spoke to a very helpful person who arranged an appointment for yesterday (Saturday!). Whilst being seen on a Saturday impressed me, the delay in getting an appointment ran to over a week. Getting there at the appointed time I was wheeled in and asked the usual questions and I was then examined. The changes in the nurse’s body behaviour alerted me to a problem. When she excused herself to find another colleague to come and examine me, my pulse rate increased, slightly. The second nurse came in and examined me and immediately her body language changed from relaxed to a somewhat more guarded posture.

Now as a trained anthropologist, one of things I find myself doing all the time is observing the behaviour of others. Some call this people watching, and ever since I started my training as a mental health nurse I have been fascinated by observing the behaviour of others. So I found it an interesting experience sitting in the examination room with two health care practitioners talking about me as if I wasn’t there, presumably because I couldn’t hear, but doing so whilst sending out high anxiety non verbal communications. I am sure Jan-Kåre Breivikwas, the Norwegian anthropologist whose work on the cultural identities of deaf people and populations has contributed to changing attitudes towards minority cultural groups, particularly people who are deaf.

Eventually, the senior of the two nurses said, I wasn’t to worry, but I needed to see my GP as soon as possible that my right ear in particular was infected and very inflamed. I told them I wasn’t worried as getting to see my GP for the referral to the syringe of ears clinic had taken nearly two weeks and I assumed it would take another two weeks to see him again. By which time whatever the problem was would probably have cured itself. I just had to deal with the deafness, or so I thought. However, on returning home I was advised (strongly) that I needed to report to the Walk-in Clinic at 08.30am, and get the nurse on duty to prescribe some antibiotics.

So despite, having hundreds of (holiday) emails to deal with (and apologies if yours is one of these), that is what I shall be doing later on this morning. And there was me thinking that dealing with the CSR outcomes was tough!