Sunday, 27 January 2013

Day Time TV, Time to Talk, and OK we’ve done Snow for 2013

Now here a radical idea for the current UK Government. If they really want to get people active, and healthy, then ban Day Time TV. There should be no TV until 18.00 and then it should be the 6 o'clock News and possibly In the Night Garden (some of you will know what I mean by the latter). Having personified Talcott Parsons Sick Role all last week, I found I had become addicted to DTTV – and what an addictive drug it is. Breakfast, merges into A Life Down Under, A Place in the Sun, or the Country depending on what channel you watch, Jamie’s busy preparing meals in 15 minutes, Dave is almost back to back Top Gear, and then its Four in a Bed, Come Dine With Me and Pointless before the 6 o’clock News returns.

I can tell you it’s an exhausting business this DTTV, and leads to a disabling lethargy that creeps up in the most insidious way imaginable. Thankfully, 500mg Amoxicillin 3 times a day, regular cups of hot blackcurrant flavored Cold and Flu drinks, and an 16 month old toddler who doesn't stop until he hears the first few bars of the signature music of In the Night Garden, provides for a reasonable cure! Tomorrow its back to work and DTTV will seem like a distant bad dream by 08.00am

What I couldn't escape from while under the spell of DTTV was the advertisements. There were the usual nonsense claims being made about which supermarket was doing its best to help hard pressed families survive the continued economic downturn. The consumer group Which? Published a report in Oct 2012 showing the average cost of shopping bill is £76.83 per week for a family of 2 adults and 2 children. This story is something I want to return to in a future blog, but it was the mental health advertisements that really caught my eye.

Not only are these visually appealing, they convey an important message in a very direct way. The TV advertisments are part of an ongoing campaign run by the Time to Change group. Led by the national mental health charities, MIND and Rethink and funded by the DH, it is England's most ambitious campaign to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people who experience mental health problems. Stigma and discrimination ruin lives. They deny people with mental health problems the opportunity to live their lives to the full. They deny people relationships, work, education, hope and the chance to live an ordinary life that others take for granted.

The Time to Change campaign is shown to be having a positive impact on public attitudes and behaviour towards people with mental health problems.  Since the campaign launched in 2007, there has been a 3% increase in the number of people who say they face no discrimination, an 11.5% reduction in average levels of discrimination, and a 2.4% improvement in public attitudes. There is still some way to go. The current campaign aims to tackle the fear and awkwardness that people feel around talking about mental health. And to save you from becoming addicted to DTTV I have provided the link to the advertisements here: 

And methinks it’s time for the weather to change. Friday’s snow storm was something to sit and watch, but disastrous for many people travelling home after a longs week work. Here it lay way over 12 inches deep (30cm for those under the age of 45) during the afternoon and evening. The weight of the snow along with the wind meant getting the chain saw out to clear away the 3 trees that fallen across the drive. It was good to see everyone out on the lane helping to clear the snow away. I’m hoping that’s it for snow in early 2013. But that said, it was good to talk, snow shovel in hand or not, and talking beats DTTV every time. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Playing with Numbers, Children and in the Snow

Today I am feeling every single one of the 21070 days I have been alive. I was born on a Sunday, as was my youngest grandson, although he is just 462 days old today. Children and numbers featured largely in my world last week. The numbers (and calculations) started this time last week. Over the past week I have been busy developing a School Operational Plan. This looks at where the School wants to be in 5 years time and what we need to do to get there. The work involves not only harnessing the creativity of colleagues in generating ideas, but having these tested through market research and then the resultant plans being risk assessed and costed out.

Spreadsheet work is not my thing, but I am very fortunate to have a colleague who revels in such activity. I think of him as a kind of George Soros meets Gandalf – but in any event he is the absolute king of the spreadsheet and calculator and has helped me beyond measure this past week. And he has done so with great patience. Many thanks Mark.

And last Monday I was involved in a different set of calculations which looked at my state of health. My body mass index, BP, heart rate, Peak flow rate, number of units of alcohol consumed in a week (its very low Mother), types of illness experienced over my lifetime, and those of my parents, and siblings were all tested. As I had declared myself as a non-smoker I had to have a test to check this. A few drops of urine, a special chemical impregnated pad, and 20 seconds later I was proved to be a non-smoker. Apparently the test is so sensitive that had I chosen to have an after Christmas day meal cigar, and smoked nothing since, the test would have shown positive.

These tests were for a life insurance policy and were performed by a nurse (I guess because that would be cheaper than a doctor). The history taking and results of the tests were all recorded using a digital pen. The nurse had a confirmatory email that the company had received the information even before he packed his bag. The nurse had a day job working at the local hospital, although he said they didn't use digital technology in quite the same way there.

That the nurse worked at the local hospital was quite a coincidence, as my youngest grandson had been admitted there earlier in the day . He had a chest infection and was very poorly. In the UK, the estimated incidence of lower respiratory tract infection requiring hospitalisation is about 30 per 1000 children per year. 34 per 10000 children aged less than 5 years of age are seen at hospital with pneumonia each year. Boys are more often affected than girls.

I am not going to comment here about my grandsons experience, other than to say, he was constantly mistaken for a girl (in all his 462 days of life he hasn't had his hair cut and now boast lovely flowing ginger locks), the doctor always knew best, the nurses appeared thin on the ground and incredibly busy, the unit was like Bedlam on a quiet day, and we waited 3 hours to get his discharge medication delivered before he could leave the ward.

He and his Mother (who was also poorly in the same hospital) are now back home and receiving the kind of care that I am sure the Francis Report will demand of nurses in the future. Our local Community Nurses rang yesterday to say they will visit today – should be interesting unless they have a 4x4 as the road to the house is still covered in about 5 inches of snow.

As regular readers of this blog will know, Cello adores the snow. Unfortunately due to the way these things happen, he had his wonderfully curly, thick and warming coat cut off a couple of days before the snow came. It didn't stop him wanting to enjoy the snow though. He has either been sitting at the window watching the snow fall, or waiting at the door to be taken out. And when he’s out he is like a new born Spring lamb jumping and running about with gay abandon despite the fact that he is 1273 days old (or 10770 when calculated so as to equate to human days). Unlike me, Cello doesnt need to use Yaktrax to keep upright on his feet. Its all about perfect balance I guess.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Bush Fires, Failing our Children, Going Fast and a certain Frisson

Several mornings last week I engaged in a Twitter conversation with a chap called Aaron who lives in a place called Young, 270km south of Sydney, Australia. I have never met Aaron. However, just after I had listened to the BBC Today programme on the way to work describe the fires in Australia, I read his description of his situation, spread out over several tweets, each one describing the deteriorating situation in what looked like increasingly desperate terms. I sent a supportive tweet and we then engaged in several exchanges over the next few days.

Thankfully by the end of the week the danger had passed for him, but the fires have left a trail of devastation behind them. They started back on the 5th of January in the state of Tasmania, where many large fires burnt out of control for several days. Tasmaina is the home of Steve Biddulph, psychologist and the author of a number of bestselling books on parenting and boys education. His books argue for a more affectionate and connected form of parenting, and the importance of role models in children's lives. 

Last week he started marketing his latest book Raising Girls, due out on the 17th which deals, in part with the premature sexualisation of girls through media exposure. He claims that girls were being forced to grow up too quickly. And they are growing up much quicker than their parents, Biddulph notes that: “their childhood is not like ours, to put it bluntly, our 18 is their 14, and our 14 is their 10”. He warned that parents had failed to protect them from external pressures. The consequence he argues is a negative impact upon the mental health of many young girls. Problems such as eating disorders and self-harm, stress and depression, which once had been extremely rare, were now much more common.

However, it can also be that even after taking great care of ourselves, we can still suffer health problems. I was saddened this week to hear of Andrew Marrs stroke. I watched him interview the Prime Minster last Sunday, and he was in fine form! Andrew is a keen fitness fanatic, a long distance runner (of course I won’t say anything about miles he might have enjoyed over the years), and he usually abstains from alcohol during January. At only 53, he is considered young to have suffered a stroke. Of the 150,000 people who suffer the attack every year in England, the majority are over 65.

According to Department of Health, strokes are a major health problem in the UK, and are the third largest cause of death, after heart disease and cancer. The brain damage caused by strokes means that they are the largest cause of adult disability in the UK.  Speed of treatment is of the essence when dealing with a stroke, because the sooner a person receives help, the less damage is likely to happen.

And walking Cello yesterday morning, the frisson I experienced was not caused by the sub-zero temperature, but was an emotionally triggered response on seeing my first bright yellow Primula, flower head open, shining like a beacon in the cold early morning winter sunshine. It was only a small thing, but very heart warming.  

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Its 2013 and for many, the world is still viewed in only Black and White terms

Happy New Year to all readers of this blog! I hope you had a great celebration and I wish you all the best for 2013. The 2nd of January and my return to work came around all too quickly. After 10 days of lazy starts to the day, eating more than was good for me, and finding myself being intellectually entertained by ‘Come Dine with Me’, sitting at my desk at 06.00 came as a bit of a shock. However, it was only a 3 day week.

So yesterday it was lovely to get back up into the hills and to be walking with Cello. The sun had his hat on, the Canadian geese were grazing on the grass and all was well with the world. I watched the story of the Military Wives 'wherever you are' song- watch this link – tissues maybe required:

Tears might also be in the eyes of poor William Marotta, a 46-year-old Topeka resident of Kansas in the US. This week, William found himself liable for $6000 worth of back dated child support and a liability for future support for his 3 year old daughter.

What caught my eye about this story was the fact that William had been declared liable for his daughters support by a Kansas court despite the fact that all he had done was to donate his sperm to a lesbian couple. The case hinges on the fact that no doctors were used for the artificial insemination. The women handled the artificial insemination themselves using a syringe, and one of the women, a lady called Jennifer Schreiner, eventually became pregnant. Many shades of grayness here I think.

William had answered an on-line advertisement in 2009 from a local couple, Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner, who said they were seeking a sperm donor. After exchanging emails and meeting, the three signed an agreement which was believed relieved William of any financial or paternal responsibility. However, the State argues that because William didn't work through a clinic or doctor, as required by a 1994 law, he is responsible for the state benefit support the child's biological mother received through public assistance – as well as future child support. The case only came to the States attention when the couple’s relationship broke down late last year and they separated, and Jennifer applied for state benefits.

I mention this story as last week David Cameron announced that the 'Friends and Family Test' will be in operation in the NHS by April. This is a quality assurance evaluation that asks the question: 'would you recommend this service to friends and family?' A great question to ask, but the NHS guidance for implementing this test requires that patients should be surveyed on the day of discharge or within 48 hours of discharge. It's said that this will ensure that the answer given reflects the patient's informed opinion, based on their recent experience.

However, there is much evidence to suggest that the nearer to the event a survey is carried out, the more likely it is to overstate reaction. Plus, if undertaken whilst the patient is still in hospital, most answers (particularly among older patients) will be positive for fear of retribution or reprisal and the wish not to be critical, face-to-face, for fear of confrontation. This approach will almost certainly distort and skew any results because of a lack of consistency in question framing, timing and environment.

And a lack of consistency seems to be at the heart of the most distressing story this week. Of course it is the UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove's, announcement last week to remove the country’s most celebrated black historical figure from the national curriculum. It was Mary Seacole, who cared for soldiers on the front line during the Crimean War between Russia and an alliance of the French, British and Ottoman empires, and who is as equally famous in the nursing profession as Florence Nightingale. Mary Seacole’s efforts in the Crimea earned her the adulation of thousands of ex-servicemen. However her contributions to nursing and health care were largely forgotten after her death in 1881, before a successful campaign was launched to ensure that her story was taught in primary schools.

Why anyone would want to deny our children the story of this heroic woman on a battlefield is a complete mystery to me. Mary Seacole’s story is one tiny but symbolic example of the healthy diversification of the UK national curriculum. The Horrible History clip: is an example of how today we are enabling children to access the wonderful story of women's involvement in our history. Whether Michael Gove or William Marotta like it or not, the history of the world we live in is not white, male and medieval. It is mutli-cultural, in race, gender, class and orientation.