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.