Last Tuesday after 4 hours work at the University, I once again made my way to Manchester Airport. This time I was Iceland bound to speak at the Nordic Conference of Mental Health Nursing – Breaking Barriers. Getting off the plane at Reykjavik I was almost blown over by the ferocity of the wind, and the torrential rain was coming down sideways. The transfer from the airport took well over an hour and I was very tired by the time I finally got to my bed some 18 hours after I had left the one in my home in the UK.
The following morning the opening ceremony started with a few moments silence in a humanistic remembrance of the tragic events in New York on 11th September 2001.
Now I have been to many conference opening ceremonies, but this was one of the best. There was 12 different countries represented and the various languages being spoken around me was fascinating, as were the names – thank goodness they are not graduating from our University. The first welcome talk came from Helga Sif Friðjónsdóttir, the Chair of the Icelandic Psychiatric Association, followed by Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the former President of Iceland and the Conference Patron. She had been the first woman president in Iceland.
There was music from a duet called Lava Garden, but the best element was two readings from the Icelandic poet and writer Einar Már Guðmundsson. The readings were taken from his book Ancients of the Universe, and were dedicated to his brother. His brother killed himself after living with a mental illness for a number of years. They were very moving, funny and totally appropriate stories to be told.
I was presenting a paper on the notion as to whether compassion could be taught or is it best taught. Other participants were very interested in the 6Cs concept, and there was a great deal of Twitter chat on the subject and I hope Jane Cummings, the Chief Nurse in England would have been pleased to see this. She of course is the 6 Cs champion and a regular user of Twitter.
Social media use was much in evidence throughout the conference, and there was as much discussion on-line (Twitterchat) as there was person to person conversations. One of the best presentations was on the development of a app called SmartCare – completely service user designed and developed. It had 3 components, a dictionary of knowledge and hope, self-assessment (being able to use standardised tests that service user could access to assess their own state of well-being); and a prompts and reminders section for medication, appointments and so on.
I was twitter alerted to a paper published in the British Medical Journal last week by the organisational psychologist Michael West from Lancaster University. His team had published their findings from a major project undertaken into the quality and safety in the NHS. Their paper appears to support was I was saying in my paper at the conference that compassionate nurses need to experience a compassionate organisation. Michael West noted that the NHS needed to move away from the tick box approach to quality assurance and towards a values based organisational culture that demonstrates compassion and patient centeredness. These are organisations which have cultures of positivity, self-belief and compassion rather than being characterised by fear, anxiety, hierarchy and defensiveness.
Tomatoes and Toadstools, not a new addition to the vegetarian menu, but my conference pack contained 5 bright red cherry tomatoes in a little bag, brilliantly different, as were the grass verges by the side of the road, these were strewn with the most wonderful looking fairy-tale toadstools and mushrooms. And if we really are going to break through the barriers to deliver more compassionate mental health care then we are going to have to dare to be different ourselves!