Sunday, 25 September 2011

Making a Start, Making Progress, Making Time

The week was a busy one and one that was rich in experiences, emotions and challenges and opportunities. Monday was the start of the new academic year and some 900 nurses, midwives, social work, counselling and social policy students joined the School to begin their studies. At times the noise and movement resulting from these students exploring for the first time their new campus, was fantastic and a real fillip after the somewhat quiet days of August. I really enjoyed welcoming the students and it was great to see the 300 seats in G21 filled to capacity on each of the three occasions it took to deliver my  talk this year.

Tuesday was the last day I was at the University before leaving for Europe – so was crammed with planned meetings and those ‘can I just have 5 minute ones’. However, I did manage to get to talk to the one person I missed talking to the previous week, which allowed the silence to be broken and conversation to recommence. Sadly, Tuesday also brought the dreadful news of the untimely death of one of our valued colleagues working in another College. For me, the news reinforced the fragility of our lives and the need to ensure we find ways each day to live the lives we want to live.

Wednesday started at 03.00 and by 04.30  was at Manchester airport on my way to Lithuania. Wednesday became a 22 hour working day. Lithuania is a wonderful place - and one full of contrast. New modern buildings stand next door to buildings crumbling away through neglect. I was there as part of the EmpNUR project - a project aiming to empower nurses through mentorship. University’s for seven European countries have come together to develop a mentorship programme that will transform nurse education across Europe. And the good news was we had made progress in achieving this aim.

Working on a project that aims to work across a multi cultural consituency is always going to be difficult. However, our group has succeeded in finding a way to embrace difference and recognise the cultural, political and organisational challenges facing each of the participant countries. We have established an evidence base for the benefits of mentorship as a way of improving learning in practice.

Our hosts in Lithuania were brilliant. The hotel was the most laid back place I had ever stayed in. Cool seemed to run through the veins of every employee. They really delivered on making staying with them a wonderful experience. During the trip we were able to visit colleagues in practice and spent a great afternoon with students and tutors exploring their experiences of becoming a nurse or a midwife. Afternoon tea included a range of cheeses served with a thick honey – sounds strange but actually it was very tasty.

Friday was a bitter sweet day. On this day four years ago my little brother Christopher died. He endured a whole load of health problems throughout his life but always remained optimistic, and  enthusiastically embraced life. He never had a bad word to say about the doctors and nurses who provided for his care. He never tired of singing my praises, most of which was undeserved. It was really good to spend the journey travelling between Lithuania on Friday afternoon trading stories of childhood experiences, good and bad, with my friend and colleague Karen. Christopher died the day before my interview for the Head of School role.

The four years since then have passed very quickly. They have been four rewarding years, and thanks to the contribution of my colleagues, as a School we have been able to move forward in achieving our strategic aims at an exponential rate of progress. And as a new School, we will need to continue to find time to ensure that what we do is what we need to do. Just like the project group in Europe, all my colleagues in the School will need to remain open to new ideas, be prepared to be brave enough to try something different and creative, and have the confidence in our collective abilities to continually find innovative ways of developing and delivering our programmes.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Kilts, Saris, a Jacob's Feast, and Conversations

Last Sunday I attended a Scottish/Asian wedding held in the Ashton Memorial located at the highest point in Williamson Park in Lancaster. The folly is visible for miles around, and most people will have seen it from the motorway on their way to the Lakes or Scotland. The day was bitterly cold with strong winds and lashing rain. The under floor hot air heating kept the space warm and the Indian spicy food warmed people up from the inside.

All the men wore kilts and the women saris, which made for a colorful, noisy and wonderfully cosmopolitan gathering. The conversations around the room with people known and new were often fascinating and always great fun.

Monday I took part in a Readership/Professorial interview at the University of Bedford. It is always a great privilege to be part of such events. You get to hear all the issues (good and bad) that colleagues from a different University are dealing with, and of course you get to have conversations with the candidates. On this occasion one of the candidates was from Maastricht University, famous for its approach to internationalism and of course, Problem Based Learning. It was fantastic to hear about both these activities during the interview process. I came away with some great ideas for our School to consider, and these ideas made the three hour drive there (and three hours back) worthwhile!

Tuesday saw the first of our new College Research and Innovation Committee meetings. New faces, new agenda and the first conversations with some of new our colleagues joining the College as part of the University Transformational Programme. Wednesday’s work included an afternoon spent at Senate – and conversations around ourTeaching and Learning, Research and Innovation, and Engagement and Partnership strategies.

Thursday was my granddaughter Evie’s 4th birthday and it was delightful to be able to talk to her and hear just how exciting her day had been. I also had the discharge conversation with my nursing colleagues at the Clinic. And later on that evening the phone rang, and it was a colleague from Australia. He and I were at opposite ends of the day, and whilst he had sunshine and light, I had darkness, rain and high winds to contend with. It was an interesting conversation nevertheless.

Friday was the first Development Day for the new School. I am not sure standing in front of 240 colleagues from the School presenting my analysis of the external and internal environment and the changes we need to address really counts as a conversation, but it was a fabulous start to what turned out to be a creative, productive and fun day. Next up, colleagues worked in small groups to develop a sense of the kind of School they wanted to work in and what as a new School, we need to do as ensure we can successfully create this. The work continued as the groups turned to addressing some specific issues around enhancing the student experience, and developing our research activities.

Lunch was a Jacobs’s Feast and it was a veritable self created banquet – we also tried out the refreshed University catering offering and this got positive reviews from everyone. We had an extended lunch break and it was great to listen to the conversations going on the rooms and corridors, often between colleagues who were meeting each other for the first time. The day ended with a plenary session at which the group work outcomes were presented. I don’t know whether it was Friday, or that colleagues felt relaxed, but the presentations were thought provoking and at the same time the mood in the room was jubilant. Great fun was had by all. The last couple of hours of the afternoon passed quickly, easily and very enjoyably.

Friday ended with a meal out with my Magistrate friends. We have been together as group of Magistrates for nearly 20 years. As always, the dinner table conversations were rich with tales of our collective experiences of sitting in Court over those years, and of course, ambitions achieved and those that didn’t quite come off.

It has been a week of interesting, rewarding and sometimes challenging conversations. However, due to my not being particularly thoughtful, I made it impossible to have a conversation with the one person I really needed to talk to this week. Sadly, as the week has gone on the silence has stretched out between us.

Clearly I need to more carefully reflect and act upon the advice of  Mahatma Gandhi’s - happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do, are in harmony. Today is the start of a new week, with hopefully plenty of new opportunities to work towards achieving such a state of harmony.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

A Duty of Candour, Depressive Women, and Friends in Finland

The first two days of last week were spent at the University Strategic Conference. Unfortunately due to still having treatment at the clinic each morning, staying over was impossible. Experience tells me that it's the informal getting together in this way that are the most valuable and  enjoyable aspects of such events. However, the two days were very good and I came away with a sense that the University had somehow changed gear in working towards achieving its strategic aims. In the last session we were encouraged to raise ‘taboo’ topics. Ironically, the rules of confidentiality don’t allow me to say whether anyone did or not.

But arguably such sessions are important for any organisations health. How many of us have been party to a meeting where the 'Elephant in the Room' is completely ignored as people feel for whatever reason unable to voice their concerns. It’s sometimes easier to simply convince oneself to be a team player and not rock the organisational boat. It can be hard to stand up and be counted for what you believe to be right. I believe that it is important for organisations and the managers who lead within them to learn how to listen carefully to what is being said.

Last year the UK Department of Health signalled its intent to introduce a ‘duty of candour’ for all health care providers, making them contractually obliged to publicly reveal mistakes made. This month the Health Select Committee recommended that the ‘duty of candour’ will need to be a condition for licensing (by the Care Quality Commission) for any qualified provider wishing to contract for the provision of health care services. Even without the moral obligation to enact a duty of candour there are important economic drivers to consider. The cost of settling legal claims against the NHS for clinical negligence was £807m in 2010, a rise of £146m on the previous year. Each of these claims represents something going wrong, a patient harmed or killed. Being a current user of health care services and the fact there were just under 6000 claims last year is enough to make me feel quite depressed.

And I am not alone. The journal, European Neuropsychopharmacology last week published an updated report on work originally undertaken in 2005 which looked at the size and burden of mental illness in Europe. The report showed that almost 165 million people or 38% of the population suffer each year from a mental health problem such as depression, anxiety, insomnia or dementia. Professor Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, who led the systematic review of empirical based studies, noted that the rate of depression in women was 2.6 times higher than for men, particularly for those women aged between the ages of 16 to 42. These researchers attribute this higher rate of depression in women to the burden of balancing the demands of marriage, family and a job – although I am not convinced this link is clearly demonstrated in their paper.

The mental health organisation SANE note that perhaps one reason we believe that women are twice as likely to suffer from depression than men is more to do women being more prepared to talk about it, whereas many men can find it more difficult to describe their feelings of anxiety, depression or loneliness and may even lack the language to express their inner feelings.

However, maybe the depressive woman doesn’t need to be, well completely depressed. Dr Sabura Allen, a clinical psychologist at Monash University published, in 2007, her now famous piece of research which looked at the recent sexual experiences of depressed and non-depressed married and single women who were both in relationships or not. Her study found that depressed women had more sex than their non-depressed counterparts. The study concluded that depressed women were likely to be seeking out sexual intimacy more often to help make them feel more secure. I am not so sure her research really proved this is the case. But it is known that sexual activity provokes a release of endorphins which elevate our mood and can make us feel ‘happier’ and increase our sense of wellbeing.

And finally, it is likely that this weekend will be a difficult one for many people. Each anniversary of 9/11 provokes in me a sense of deep contemplation of the human condition. I was in Finland when 9/11 happened and with friends of many years. We sat and watched the dreadful events unfold together. And Mikko, Leena, and Heikki remain good friends all these years later. They have, and continue to bring much happiness to my life!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Black and Blue Bodies, A Red Letter Day, and Purple Prose

In my opinion, and I know I am making a rather sweeping generalisation here, nurses becoming patients is never a good thing. Disclosing that one is a nurse to other nurses when one is a patient is possibly also not always such clever thing to do.

I was surprised, therefore to find myself telling a nurse armed with a needle poised above my vein, ready to draw blood, that I was a nurse. The somewhat unfortunate result was getting two bruised arms before any blood was drawn. It was unfortunate that the drawing of blood came immediately before the administration of a deep subcutaneous injection into my abdomen. The injection was painful and bruised me. But it was just the start, my belly was turned black and blue during what was a week of daily injections.   

I was at a clinic I last attended in December 2007. On that first visit I came across a very caring health care assistant. I remember her well. Seeing my bewilderment on that first day at the clinic she kindly offered me a welcome cup of tea – which duly came, served in what my Mother would call 'a proper tea cup'. Nearly four years later, we were both there again. This time there was no tea, and she was the one looking bewildered. The waiting room door was locked. It had a numerical lock which defied all her attempts at guessing the code. So we stood outside talked about the advantages of a Kindle versus paper books and whether I knew who had 'done it' in the TV series the Killers – and despite my repeated protestations that I had never heard of the programme she insisted I must know who the villain was. I was saved by the arrival of the Clinic Sister. The painful injection was a small price to pay for being rescued.

I think the Clinic story is likely to run for a bit yet, unfortunately. What I also hope gets to have a long run is our new School. September 1st, 2011 was a Red Letter Day for the School. It was the official beginning of the new School of Nursing, Midwifery & Social Work. The creation of this new School, bringing together for the first time a much wider range of health and social care professions in one school, is what I believe to be one of the most exciting and significant developments in the Schools history. The opportunities to deliver our programmes differently are limitless. There are many opportunities for new research and to further contribute to the development of health and social care services of the future. I am really proud to be part of a newly formed team of colleagues who will take these ideas and opportunities forward.

Of course at one time in British Universities, there really were red letter days (often referred to as scarlet days) where the full dress gowns were worn. These days such academic dress is usually only worn on graduation days. It is such a shame that it doesn’t these days. I would love to be able to wear of our gowns everyday!

However, it was only the Doctors who got to wear the Scarlet Robes! That is real Doctors (those with a PhD). But it was not surprising to read the outcomes of the 2011 Ipsos MORI Veracity Index which revealed that 88% of adults in the UK reported that they trust medical doctors to tell the truth. It was an annual poll carried out for British Medical Association. The results revealed that doctors were the most trusted profession measured. The least trusted profession were politicians. It was teachers who were the second most trusted profession (81%). Interestingly, since 1983 at least 50% of those taking part in the survey have also said they trust the ordinary person in the street to tell the truth (in 2011 it was 55%).

And finally, many congratulations to our NJL, who also had her own Red Letter Day on Thursday – she got married - well done and best wishes!