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.