Sunday, 23 September 2012

Pipped at the Post, Panic, and Plato

This week saw our new students arrive. If any of them are reading today’s posting, I say once again welcome to the School and the University of Salford. Despite many months of planning, we were pipped to the post by Student Life who took over the large purpose built auditorium we have in the Mary Seacole Building (the name kind of gives you a clue as why the building was built in the first place). So my first meetings with these students were in our Allerton Sports Hall. Now this is not a building that forms part of the GB Olympic Legacy. It is a cold, slightly past its best, Sports Hall. 350 chairs had been set out and at 10.00 on Monday the first 300 students came in. Some 30 minutes later we had a slight log jam as 300 students tried to get out of the same doors as a different group of 250 students who were trying to come in. We soon had it sorted and by the time we got to the fourth transition we had the exchange down to a fine art.

I was already busy last week and that was before the problems of students accessing our IT systems emerged. There were many very concerned students to attend to. All of whom seemed to be in a state of mild panic as timetables and where they needed to be and so on were not readily available on-line. We had to resort to good old fashioned paper, and hand distribution. Colleagues across the School were magnificent in rising to the challenge and they deserve great credit for dealing with so many issues as well as trying to get on with the day job.

I was mildly amused by a panic of a different kind set in train by the Nursing Times last week. Their shock horror headline was that nurse training places have been slashed by more than 2,500 in 3 years. The trend is in contrast to medical training, with has seen an increase in numbers. Nationally, 12.7% fewer university places were commissioned by the NHS for the new academic year. This follows on from 2 previous years of reductions – in the North West we have seen our commissions fall by 16% over the past three years – but there was no panic, we worked with the Strategic Health Authority to ensure that the local health care and higher education economies were not destabilised.

Professor Green vice-chancellor of the University of Worcester sees it differently however. He said: ‘We are heading straight for a national disaster in two to three years’ time’. He claims that the number of places commissioned by SHAs is based on projections by Chief Executives who were trying to save money. He said the commissioned numbers were ‘divorced from reality’ and not based on the actual need. ‘There is going to be a shortage, that’s plain to see,’ he said. But is there?

The impact won’t be felt in any event until 2014/15 and then if nothing else changes, mainly by acute providers. But of course we know that there are many aspects of health care that are changing and the acute hospital of the future is likely to be a very different place, treating different kinds of health care problems, harnessing new technologies, with much greater resources being used to promote better population health through health promoting activities – see for more thoughts on these changes.

I think the challenge is in knowing how we need to change the way in which nurses (and other health care professionals) are prepared for the future. And that’s the rub. Yesterday I was clearing some files (really fed up with paper these days) and came across that brilliant paper Plato, sociology and nursing, by Christopher Lambert published way back in 1993. His first line captures for me the problem: Nurses have a tendency to entrap themselves in webs of their own creation. Drawing on the epistemological exploration classically espoused in Plato’s Republic and his story of the people in the cave, Lambert brilliantly deconstructs the problems nursing as profession face when they inhabit a cave constructed of well established and traditional ways of thinking that are highly resistant to change.

My younger brother Christopher would have been more succinct in his analysis however. He would have told me ‘Tony for goodness sake (or words to that effect) just get on with it, get it sorted’ – Christopher died 5 years ago today. This buddleia was planted in his memory from a small cutting taken from his garden, like my brother Christopher, it’s beautiful.