Sunday, 26 June 2011

A Rich Woman and a Richman show that it’s not the Money but the Thought that Counts

I found the story this week, of Hadassah Peri an interesting one. Twenty years ago, Hadassah, orginally from the Philippines, and working as a nurse in New york, was sent to look after Huguette Clark. At the time Huguette was an 84 year old millionaire recluse. She had inherited a quarter of a billion pounds back in 1927, money made from copper mining. When Huguette died she left £21 million of her estate to the nurse who had cared for her all this time.

In a statement released through her lawyers, Hadassah said she was ‘awed at the generosity Huguette has shown me and my family, and was eternally grateful’. She was with Huguette every day for the 20 years. She said ‘I was her private duty nurse but also her close friend. I knew her as a kind and generous person, with whom I shared many wonderful moments and whom I loved very much I am profoundly sad at her passing’. Huguette Clark’s family will receive virtually nothing from the legacy.

The case has sparked a growing debate in the nursing profession, both in the US and here in the UK over the ethics of nurses receiving gifts from those in their care. I predict it will run for some time yet. Spookily, the Health Service Journal, using the Freedom of Information Act last month revealed that Hospital Trusts in the UK still owed the Department of Health a quarter of a billion pounds, with most of the debt resulting from mass bailouts made during the financial crisis of 2006. Hospital Trusts had been given £778m in working capital loans by the DH in 2006-07 and £247m since then. By the end of 2010-11 Trusts still owed £269m and 11 trusts had £10m or more outstanding. However, I am willing to bet that this is a debate that will be as loud as the noise of one hand clapping.

The week ended for me on a sad note with the funeral of my friend, colleague and great mental health nurse Tom Mason. Tom was one of those very special people, who always put other's first, whatever the cost he was always willing to show he cared. Much of his work was in the field of forensic mental health and his prolific publications in this and other areas of nursing care helped shape the services we now have in the UK. In 1999, Tom was awarded the International Association of Forensic Nurses Achievement Award in recognition of his outstanding achievements. His work with colleagues all over the world was always given freely, and his leadership and scholarship will be greatly missed.

Tom was a humanitarian, a member of Amnesty International and active opponent of the use of torture. He was a gentle man but one passionate about promoting nursing practice, education and research – and to this end he succeeded very well.

During the celebration of his life led by his wife Elizabeth, Tom had been keen that his mentor and the man who had been a big influence in shaping his life course, should be acknowledged. This was  a man  who was possibly one of the greatest thinkers I have ever had the fortune to encounter – he was the late Professor Joel Richman. Joel was also my PhD supervisor, colleague and generous friend, as he was too many of the people at Tom’s funeral. And I want to add my voice in salute to the way both these extraordinary men touched so many of our lives in such a positive way.

However, I am sure like me, your thoughts are with Elizabeth and Tom’s family during this difficult time.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Competence, the Code, and Trying Aristotle Again

This week has been an interesting and varied one. I spent an entire morning taking part in competency based interviews. Given my predilection for difference, those that know me will understand how bizarre my involvement in such a process might have been. MI5 use competency based interviews on the basis that, done properly, they can help the interviewer understand a person’s past behaviour, something said to be the best predictor of future behaviour. Competency based interviews are designed to assess a candidate against a standard set of competencies required for the role. The candidates are not assessed against each other, but against these competencies. Surrealy, I was interviewing my PA for a Head of School PA job, a job she has done excellently for me over the past four years, and hopefully will continue to do so.

I also took part in an event that sought to understand what is meant by inclusive teaching. The first task was to ask the participants to work in small groups aimed at developing just one definition of what is meant by inclusive teaching. An impossible and some would say redundant task, given that being inclusive, in this context, must mean embracing the individual and difference. Likewise power differentials, economic considerations and professional expectations will all contribute to the interpersonal dynamics of the teaching relationships we engage in with  students.

Later on in the week I presented a case at a Fitness for Professional Practice hearing involving a student nurse studying in our School. There are currently over 660,000 nurses and midwives on the NMC register. If an allegation is made about a nurse or midwife who may not meet the standards set, the NMC will investigate and, where necessary, take action to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the public. However, less than 0.2% of nurses and midwives have allegations made about their fitness to practise. The vast majority work within their code and consistently meet the high standards expected by the public. The Code is the foundation of good nursing and midwifery practice. Competency based interviews don’t feature in these FfPP processes, thankfully.

And then Friday came and there was an opportunity to spend some time writing. A couple of my colleagues and I are trying to write a paper about the ethics of contemporary mental health nursing practice. It is not proving an easy task! The paper has already had two different drafts reviewed by the journals peer reviewers, and vastly different views expressed on the quality and standard of the argument in the papers discussion. We are using some of Aristotle ideas as the basis for developing our analysis, which is where the challenge comes from. Aristotle was a Greek philosopher whose writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics.

I am pleased to say that much progress was achieved, and a third and hopefully what will be the final and successful draft is beginning to emerge. I enjoy writing and words fascinate me. More than anything words have the power to change things. While words can hurt, intrigue, inform, embolden, show care and love in equal measure, words can also cause great amusement.

I found a headline in yesterdays Times very amusing. The story was about Michele Bachmann, a woman tipped to be the Republican most likely to oust Barak Obama in the forthcoming US presidential elections. The headline was Bachmann turns on the overdrive as Palin teases. What a brilliant play on words I thought. But perhaps you need to be a reader of a certain age to understand.

Bachman Turner Overdrive was a super group of the 1970’s. Their most famous song was You aint seen nothing yet –  a song about a man who meets and falls in love with a devil woman. His is an unrequited love, whereas she keeps the relationship going through  promises of excitement and enjoyment, hence the songs title. It is somewhat ironic then that in 1983, Margaret Thatcher on a visit to the US famously quoted the songs title when making a speach to Ronald Reagan. She has just been elected for a second term, and her promise to the British people was of better times to come. History would seem to suggest that peole experienced those better times in different ways!
And for Fathers everywhere today, have a  Happy Fathers Day. 

Sunday, 12 June 2011

A new School in the Making, Gardening and Making Black Champagne

Last week was a long and, at times, a confusing week. There was one more panel to sit on – a ‘Any Questions’ type of panel focused upon the relationship between a supervisor and a student undertaking a PhD – the panel was part of the University’s Post Graduate Student Research Conference, where students get to present their work. The conference was attended by 180 people and was inspirational in its variety, vibrancy and sheer energy; it was a real privilege to be part of the event.

On Friday the School had its last School Development Day in its current form. From September this year the School will be re-born as the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work. The new School will be the largest in the University with some 200 academic staff, and 4500 under graduate students, mainly studying on pre-qualifying professional programmes. It was the first time I had the opportunity to meet all the colleagues who will make up the new School. My passion for chickens seemed to confuse those who were hearing me present at School Congress for the first time.

However, apart from a lovely meal at the Mint Hotel with colleagues from the other Greater Manchester Universities, much of the week was unremittingly stressful. And yesterday was a wonderful opportunity to unwind and relax, to find a way of recharging my batteries. A good friend recently reminded me that: if you want to be happy for an hour, have a glass of wine; if you want to be happy for a year fall in love; but if you want to be happy forever, make a garden. So after doing the chores, it had to be a day in the garden.

Once the lawns were mown, hedges trimmed, trees pruned and weeds pulled, there was time to take in the changes. This year the Sambucus nigra is in full flower, with lots of blossom. Predictably perhaps, I prefer this black version of the popular elderberry. And I am not alone. Black elderberry has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. It’s even been known to cure ‘man flu’. More seriously, a 2009 study found that the H1N1 inhibition activities of the elderberry flavonoids compared favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Tamiflu.

My interest is in the flowers is more esoteric – despite the fact the leaves, seeds, roots and flowers contain cyanide, I want to find out if I can make black elderflower champagne. I’ve made ordinary white elderflower champagne for years, but this is the first time I have enough black flowers to have a go. Watch this space.

The perfect end of a day in the garden yesterday was hearing Robert Miles ‘Children’ coming on the iPod as I cooked dinner. I have two 160 GB iPods each holding different sets of music – it’s a lot of music, and as the iPods are set to random play, it was serendipity that I got to hear this music again. I defy anyone to listen to the music and not start dancing – this music will make you move – even Billy was dancing up and down on his perch.

I first listened to this music some 16 years ago, driving across the Mojave Desert on my way to Las Vegas. From LA to Vegas it is one straight long long road, and putting Robert Miles Dreamland tape in the player made the journey such a good one. Ironically, Miles wrote the music in response to the number of deaths due to car accidents as clubbers drove across the country overnight, falling asleep at the wheel from strenuous dancing as well as alcohol and drug use. DJs such as Miles recognised the need to create and play slower, calming music to conclude a night's set.

And that quote about happiness, it was one David Burpee (he dropped out of University to look after the family business selling seeds), who is acknowledged as the person who made the original Chinese proverb famous. Interestingly, as a gardener, Burpee was more concerned in the nutritional value of flowers rather than the vegetables his family had traditionally sold. However it’s not known what he thought about drinking Black Elderberry champange.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

ESRC reviewed, UCL revisited, and a Dry Wedding in Bewdley

This week was the final shortened working week for a while, and I do like Bank Holiday weeks. It was a busy one though, with plenty of student concerns to resolve, the start of the transformational interviews, a Research and Innovation Away day, the VC colloquium on Arts and the Humanities at the University of Salford – for some reason I had been invited to be a Panel Member. Towards the end of the week, I sat on a different panel, a recruitment panel for a Professor in Midwifery – more of which in a later blog.

The week ended however, with a visit to Lancaster University to take part in the first Regional Event facilitated by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC). The event was hosted by Lancaster at their magnificent campus on one of the hottest days of the year so far. 

The day was facilitated by Paul Boyle, Professor in Human Geography at the University of St Andrews and current Chief Executive of the ESRC. He outlined the changes the ESRC have made and which are introduced from June 2011. These changes have been driven in part by the reduced funding available for commissioning research, and partly because the number of applications has risen by 38% over the last 3 years, whereas the success rate for applicants has stayed at a stubbornly low 13%. Many of us have spent a great deal of time preparing bid applications, which are then sent for review and clearly the attendant time and cost involved in this is not worthwhile if only 13% of applications are getting funded. So part of the day was around discussing how this situation might be managed.

Interestingly, there was also an opportunity to hear about the existing and planned programmes. I was struck in particular by the longitudinal studies (and these really are life time studies) funded by the ESRC – this is the only funding body able to commission and pay for such studies. The most famous of which is possibly the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS).

Its longitudinal design means that the same individuals are re-interviewed on each successive year. Similarly, children from these households become eligible for interview as they reach the age of 16. Thus the sample has remained broadly representative of the population of Britain, and provides unique data on the dynamics of change in the UK population. The BHPS has been running since 1991, and now includes around 9,000 households and 22,000 individual members (target is 40,000 members).

The study collects data about each sample member and his or her household at annual intervals. Such panel surveys provide unique information on the persistence of such states as child poverty or disability, on factors that influence key life transitions, such as marriage and divorce, and on the effects of earlier life circumstances on later outcomes.

The latest project to be announced is the Birth Cohort Facility Project. This project has received a landmark £28.5 million commitment from the UK Government. The Birth Cohort Study will track the growth, development, health, well-being and social circumstances of over 90,000 UK babies and their families - from all walks of life – and will initially cover the period from pregnancy right through the early years of childhood. Recruitment of parents is due to begin in or around 2012.

The Study has been developed by a team comprising the UK’s leading biomedical and social scientists. Professor Carol Dezateux, Director of the MRC Centre of Epidemiology for Child Health at the Institute of Child Health, University College London and a consultant paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, will lead the Birth Cohort Study Scientific Leadership.

Sitting there listening to the presentation I was struck by the rather wonderful Google Chrome advert on the TVs at the moment that is built around the emails a Father sends his daughter over time, with the aim to one day to sit and look at them together. Its a wonderful advert and one that both recognises and promotes the longitudinal nature of the bond between children and thier parents in an ever changing world. 

This weekend I was witness to the dynamic nature of such relationships. I attended a family wedding. One of my nieces was getting married (I think I was that slightly eccentric Uncle from up North). It was a long over due opportunity to spend some time with my Mother and Father and some of my brothers and sisters. The marriage was held in the beautiful village of Bewdley, it was a lovely if somewhat over long wedding service (I am not sure I really like these new fangled hymns and the preacher man insisted on calling them songs).

The reception was held at Rock Hall – a wonderful example of an ecologically sound community venture. One side of its roof was covered in solar cells generating enough electricity to keep the building going at no cost.

The reception was great, but it was a dry reception, no alcohol allowed…

…but I guess each to their own.