Sunday, 28 December 2014

A Few Glances Back; Looking Forward to the New Year

This last blog of 2014 comes partly from cut and paste lines taken from the 52 blogs I've posted during the year. I hope you don’t mind, but sometimes I like to glance backwards and glimpse a memory or two of the things that caught my attention. For example, In 2014, 30,000 people got on their bikes and cycled the 54 miles London to Brighton British Heart Foundation (BHF) Bike ride. Since 1980 650,000 riders have taken part raising some £40m for the BHF. One of my PhD students also completed his PhD studies – he study explored the use of bikes and the development of contemporary cycling. During 2014 over 19,000 cyclists were killed or injured on UK roads.

Just in 2014 alone 19031 people were suspected of having Ebola, 12041 were confirmed as having the virus. Unfortunately, of this group, 7533 people died. During 5th August to the 11th November 88,246 ceramic poppies created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper were planted at the Tower of London marking the 100 years that had passed since Britain became involved in the First World War.

On the 17th July Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) was shot down 50 km from the RussianUkraine border killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. The passengers had no chance to say goodbye to their loved ones, and in this same week I heard that my former wife, friend and gardening mentor had died. We had separated 20 years previously and hadn't maintained contact. But it still hurt not having the chance to say goodbye. During 2014 201 people died in UK prisons

On the evening of the 14th February, ITV showed the first of 8 episodes of the now successful Student Nurses: Bedpans and Bandages. It was a fantastic showcase for our student nurses, colleagues in the School and in practice. It attracted audiences of between 4-5 million for each episode. 

Someone who is still going strong however is Paddy. Paddy is the oldest person in my Scottish village. She is a lady in her nighties and a lady with a distinct tinkle in her eyes. In March we were both at a house warming party where the average age was 60+. Paddy has lived in the village for over 40 years. When she first arrived there was a staggering 21 doctors living in the village and its surroundings. These days there are only 4 doctors (and one professor – me).

No doctors (or professors) were need on the 7th May, when Harry, brother to Jack and grandchild number 9 made his appearance into the world. He was a home delivery, a delivery facilitated by a midwife trained in our School. And on the 16th of August in the quintessential English village of Hornby, our youngest son Joseph married Louise – it was a great day and for the first time in many, many years, all 5 children were together in the same place. I made my stage debut with Ruby Wax on the 18th March, she was a great person to work with and we had many shared views of how to improve our mental health and wellbeing.

What improves my mental health and wellbeing is being outside and I love being unencumbered and free in my gardens. In June of last year, the House in Scotland gardens featured as part of the Open Garden event. It was a huge success. The weather was fantastic and over 180 people walked through the gate (all having paid a £4 entrance fee, the proceeds of which went to charity). It was the garden to see and was described as 'the most interesting, creative and fun' garden  in the village. 

Of course most gardens are ever changing places, and I love walking through mine bare foot, stopping to look and think about the changes I need to make, and consider those that nature is making for me. Whilst not quite a metaphor for our School, I know that next year the world will bring the School challenges and changes that we will need to stop and think about how we might best respond. Whatever you are doing to bring in the New Year I wish you and yours well. Thanks for taking the time to read these blogs and I hope you feel inclined to continue doing so in 2015

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Foodbanks, French fries, Fat Fines and Happy Christmas 2014

Last Friday I worked from home. As a consequence I was able to get out early to do my shopping. Usually I shop at my local Tesco’s (there are other food retailers) and on this occasion it was no different. In the store there was a sign saying how successful this year’s food collection (in partnership with the Trussel Trust and FareShare) had been. Twice a year customers are encouraged to donate an extra item of food when they go shopping, which is then distributed to foodbanks. Tesco pledge to add an extra 30% to the donations and this year the food collection helped provide 4.7 million meals to people this winter.

As to why, in the UK, in 2014, we need to have foodbanks is the subject for a future blog. I was struck however, in reading of the food collections and a story seen on the same day about the rationing of french fries in Tokyo’s McDonald fast food outlets. Despite airlifting over 1000 tonnes of potatoes there is a shortage of potatoes and McDonald's are having to serve only small portions of chips to their customers. There is a considerable evidence base that links fast food intake to obesity. But whilst the lack of availability of fast foods might be a good news story in the UK, where the rates of obesity are around 61% of the population, the same isn't true for Japan where only 3.5% of the population are classed as being obese.  

Japan has a unique approach to dealing with obesity. And selling completely black-burgers, this year's 'food craze' isn't it. Unlike Dubai, who pays people to lose weight, or New Zealand where overweight immigrants cannot gain an entry visa, Japanese citizens must adhere to a government-mandated waistline measurement or face the consequences. Waistline measurements have been set for men and women aged 40 – 74. For men, 33.5 inches, women, 35.4 inches. These limits are part of a wider approach to reduce the health costs resulting from problems such as diabetes and vascular disease, particularly in Japan's growing ageing population.

People whose waistlines are bigger than the prescribed limits are required to attend counselling and support sessions. Companies and public sector organisations face fines if the targets set are breached – these targets include not only current employees, but their families, and even retired employees. Employees have annual check-ups. The fines imposed can run into millions of pounds a year for large companies. Somehow I can't see Public Health England adopting this approach to improving the health and wellbeing of the general population.

But I was impressed with the approach set out in the Care Act 2014, which possibly represents the greatest reform to how we conceptualise integrated health and social care since the Beverage Report. According to the Social Care Institute for Excellence the Care Act represents a real opportunity to adopt an assets-based approach to planning, commissioning and developing social care. Asset-based or strengths based approaches recognise and value the relationships, skills, shared facilities and networks we use as individuals and in our communities. 

Such approaches help ensure that people who might require services are not just problems that need fixing by the State. It’s a person-centred approach that recognises that individuals should be given a voice which can enable them to have a greater say in the way local health and care services might better help support them. Possibly, it could also be an approach that is more effective at improving the health and wellbeing of individuals and the communities they live in than reducing the number of chips served or imposing fines for bigger waistlines. 

Expanding waistlines might be on some people’s minds this week – we are, after all, in the run up days to Christmas 2014 – in this house we have at least three Christmas Days with three Christmas Dinners, a consequence, and a good one, of having a large extended family - I love it! Today it is time for Christmas Dinner II. I hope you have a great Christmas celebration too and here's wishing you, your families and your friends a relaxing and peaceful time. 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

I Heard the News Today and Oh Boy, The World Is Changing!

I've not read a newspaper in many a year – well I've not held a newspaper in my hands, one of the old fashioned sort, made of wood pulp and recycled materials. I guess its people like me that have contributed to the demise of the printed word, especially in the form of a daily newspaper. These days, like many other people I hear the news on the radio, or read on-line versions of newspapers and/or TV news programmes. I often hear the genesis of a breaking news story on my way into work and then hear how the story has developed during the day on my return journey.

One newspaper that has successfully made the transition from pulped wood to digital is the Guardian. Although this is not a newspaper I would particularly want to read, the Guardian is one of the most read English language news websites in the world, with 111.5m unique browsers accessing this web site each month. The fact that it doesn't make a profit (£31m loss this year, £33m the year before) doesn't seem to matter.

Last week saw the announcement that the Guardians Editor of 20 years, Alan Rusbridger (whose annual salary is £491,000) is to retire next summer. Under his editorship, the Guardian was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service (following the exposure of the surveillance activities of various US governmental security organisations). It was the Guardian that first broke the News of World phoning hacking story, which eventually led to the Leveson enquiry into press standards.

All good stuff and I wish Alan a long and happy retirement. However, it was a story in another newspaper that caught my eye at the start of last week. I had heard the radio announcer say they were to do a piece later on in the news bulletin about how digital technology is being used to help blind people see. Due to finishing my journey I missed the story and searched on line for it. Alas, to no avail. What I did find was a story published by the Telegraph newspaper (one I would be inclined to read) from way back in April this year. Reading it made me stop and think.

It was a story drawn from a research report published by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) about the dwindling numbers of Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLO) to be found in specialist eye hospitals. The report (can be found here) notes that often these clinics are so busy that doctors and nurses have little time to discuss with patients how they might deal with the loss of their sight. Only 218 of more than 400 eye clinics and hospitals have support staff, trained and skilled to provide advice on practical issues or to offer emotional support when people are told their sight cannot be saved. Having spent 2 weeks trying to get my glasses sorted (yes I know I should have gone to S********s) and struggled to read my computer screen, mobile, and the many requests for money that pass over my desk every day, and feeling very sorry for myself in the process I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to be told you are losing your sight and there being no one there to help.

There was a group of health care professionals who were up in arms at the end of last week because they believed they would lose the opportunity to help and practice as specialists. This group were the Mental Health Academics UK (MHAcUK). Lord Willis (who is the independent chair of the Shape of Care review into the future nursing workforce) gave an interview to a journalist last week. In it he was said to advocate a more generic approach to the early part of nurse education, with specialist knowledge and skills being a feature of the later part of the educational programme (perhaps even into the first year of practice as a newly qualified nurse). Whether he said these things or not, the MHAcUK group appeared to feel the role of the mental health nurse was doomed.

One consequence was that last Thursday and Friday my in-box was filled with emails from mental health (academic) nurses intent on marching to the House of Lords and demanding full recognition for the skills and knowledge mental health nurses have as a profession. I am a mental health nurse by professional background, and I disagreed with the stance taken by MHAcUK and told them so. I thought they were missing the point of the review. Indeed mental health nurses only deal with a very small part of the population who experience mental health problems. 

I do recognise that often they work with people who mental health needs are complex and challenging. But the world is changing – as with newspapers, digital technology is challenging traditional service delivery and facilitating greater service user involvement and determination of service provision. Likewise, who actually provides services these days is changing. As my colleague Professor Davie Richards so eloquently noted last week ‘In the 1970s and 80s, mental health nurses were the obvious professional group suitable for training as psychological therapists. In the 21st century, newly qualified mental health nurses do not have the skills and knowledge to care for and treat the most prevalent and epidemiologically burdensome mental health conditions, requiring the English NHS to invest £700m over the last 6 years establishing and training a totally new workforce to do the job. The two most prevalent and burdensome mental health conditions – depression and dementia – are currently, and will in the future be even more so, the business of non-mental health professionals. People with dementia receive their care overwhelmingly from professionals, informal carers and para-professionals, not mental health nurses’

Mental health nurse academics like newspaper editors and owners perhaps need to change their view of the world. In this case, to consider once again, what they should be thinking about in terms of providing the best and most appropriate educational preparation for our mental health nurses of the future.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Just One Drink, Nativity Play Bashing, and Being a Sheep for Just One Day

The Anchor Hotels main bar was almost empty last night. Even in deepest Winter this is a rare occurrence. Whilst it was cold, and everything was covered in a white frost, as always, there’s was a cheery log fire burning brightly in the bar equalling the warmth of welcome from Sharon, Robert, Lyndsay and the rest of the staff. For me the Anchor is just a short stroll along the sea front from the House in Scotland, but for many others getting there will require a car. I think this was the reason the bar was so quiet. At one minute past midnight last Thursday/Friday Scotland’s new alcohol limit for driving was introduced. The new legal limit is just 50mg in every 100ml of blood (in other parts of the UK it is still 80mg per 100mls).

This means that even having just 1 pint of beer is likely to take most people over the limit. Between midnight and 06.00 on Friday 4 people were arrested for being over the new limit. 79% of Scottish motorists support the new reduced limits, and the RAC found that some 38% of UK motorists (living outside of Scotland) believe the lower alcohol limit should apply across the whole of the UK. 23% wanted a total ban on consuming alcohol before driving. This time of the year, most Police forces in the UK have a crackdown on drink driving,and such campaigns are almost a Christmas tradition.

A growing Christmas tradition appears to be Nativity Play Bashing. Last week the newspapers were once more full of critical narratives bemoaning the loss of the more traditional Jesus and Mary approach, or ridiculing the inclusion of astronauts and other assorted non-traditional cast members. Given the past week saw: the death of Jeremy Thorpe; massive civil rights inspired rioting on the streets in the US; NASA sending its first people carrying rocket beyond Earth’s orbit since Apollo 17 in 1972; and the WHO acknowledging that, 33m people around the world are living with HIV, and 11m don’t know they have the virus- complaining about children’s nativity plays seemed somewhat daft and churlish.

Grandson Jack didn't complain about being part of his Nativity play. This year he was a Sheep. I can’t show you what a good looking Sheep he was, because photos taken at the play are forbidden from being used on any social media site. Here's one of Jack and his brother Harry instead. Such is the world we now live in. Unfortunately it’s a world where the British police are to launch their new tool in the fight against child abuse. CAID (Child Abuse Image Database) next week. This database will store 10s of millions of photos, and videos which can be scanned and searched for images previously linked to child sexual abuse activity. The system was created by team of Swedish computer software designers.  

There were just under 9000 cases of abuse against children aged 7-14 in Sweden last year and just over 3000 reported cases of abuse against children aged 0-6 in the same period. Sweden, of course, is famous for having a culture completely intolerant to drink driving. There the limit is just 20mg per 100mls of blood. There are severe penalties for those in breach of this limit, including imprisonment. The Swedish School association in Scotland has already performed its Swedish Nativity play (Julspel) this year. 

I am not sure how many sheep were included, but Sweden isn't known for its sheep flocks. The country is home to 9300 flocks containing some 300000 ewes and rams. The average flock size is about 30 sheep, with 30% of flocks having only nine sheep or less. In comparison, Jack, for just one performance swelled the ranks of the 23m sheep that make up the national flock in the UK - and he did it in style! Bah Humbug to all those who can’t enjoy a great children’s Nativity play.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Abu Dhabi, thoughts on cars, hospitals, prisons, and the Grand Mosque

Regular readers of this blog will know that I was in Abu Dhabi for most of last week on University business. Over 1 million visitors from the UK travel to the United Arabic Emirates (UAE) each year, but nearly 75% of these head for Dubai, which has a well organised and modern regional hub airport. I have been to Dubai on a number of occasions, and have never experienced anything other than a brilliant service. However, based on what others had said, I was anticipating a fairly tortuous arrival process at Abu Dhabi airport. The reality was different. Moving through the airport and out into the warm evening air was easy and straight forward. It was a great start to the trip.

What I hadn't anticipated was the traffic. It was both frightening and life threatening. The World Health Organisation has reported that UAE road users are almost 7 times more likely to be killed than the road users in the UK. Indeed, the Sunday before I arrived (16th Nov) was World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, in Abu Dhabi this meant remembering 189 people who had died on the roads since January 2014. In 2013, 289 people in Abu Dhabi died on the roads, many of these aged between 18-30 years old.

Alongside these deaths, was the large number of young people who had been severely injured in a road traffic accident and who were now in a persistent vegetative state, being ventilated and on long term life support. While I was visiting Mafraq Hospital, part of the reason being there, there were concerns about the growing numbers of such patients. A second 64 bedded facility to provide long term care for such patient’s had just opened to try and deal with the problem of bed blocking and to respect the cultural differences to end of life care.

Colleagues at the Mafraq Hospital could not have been more welcoming. We had plenty of opportunity to meet with representatives from all the health care professions, and there were productive discussions about what, given the differences in the scope of professional practice, we could agree might be a desirable professional education CPD Portfolio. It was an amazing place with some challenging practices being taken on board by a workforce made up of both Emirati and ex-pats from around the world. The state of the art new Mafraq hospital was nearing completion – it was a fantastic looking centre for contemporary acute health care.

I was also there to touch base with our Mafraq juvenile welfare project. This is an initiative commissioned by the Abu Dhabi Police which allows us to work with Emirati colleagues in co-creating a world leading centre of excellence within a criminal justice system for services for children and young people. Arriving at the secure unit, a sprawling set of buildings, I went straight to Reception. It was a difficult first 30 minutes – no one spoke English and my Arabic was equally limited. Eventually, the words ‘University of Salford’ sparked recognition and I was whisked away to the Educational Unit.

There I was really pleasantly surprised to find one of my colleagues from our Directorate of Social Work, Foluke, standing in the middle of the room smiling a wonderful broad smile of welcome. She had been there over the past 10 days and confirmed the project was beginning to deliver the outcomes expected. This was something Lieutenant Colonel Abdullah Al Hosani (the manager of the welfare centre) reassuringly agreed with.

It wasn't all plain sailing though. There were highs and lows. Lows - meetings scheduled, could be cancelled at a moment’s notice; the traffic was a challenge; the constant heat (both a pleasure and a pain); the hotels limited vegetarian menu made me feel glad I was only there for a few days. Highs – lying in bed at 05.30 in the morning hearing the calls to prayer ringing around the city; the smiles and enthusiasm from all I met who seemed intent on making good things happen was truly motivational! - As was coming out of the Ritz Hotel after attending a host sponsored dinner to see the Grand Mosque opposite, lit up in blue. The sight of the mosque with its majestic symmetry set alongside the chaos of the complete sensory overload that was the hotel, was calming and inspirational. 

Coming back on the plane – well the Business Class up-grade meant that this time my colleague and I were sitting in different parts of the cabin so I took the opportunity to revisit some of my favourite films-  Pulp Fiction, Dirty Harry and There is Something About Mary, a film that still makes me laugh out loud. It was an interesting and productive trip, and despite the rain, cold and darkness encountered on landing back in Manchester, it did feel good to be home. 


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Sometimes, on the way out of our personal Plato’s Cave a good Cheese Board is worth enjoying

It was a slightly fore-shortened working week last week. I was up in the House in Scotland for a long weekend, and didn't come back down South until late Monday evening. Having spent a wonderful weekend with friends, and True Confessions, I didn't open up the work, work files on the computer at all during the weekend, it was a rather headlong dash into the week. Tuesday came and went in a blur of meetings and must meet deadlines. Wednesday was different.

Wednesday was School Development (and School Congress) Day. These happen once a semester and last week’s event marked the 7th anniversary (19th Nov 2007) of my very first presentation to the School as Head of School. It was a strange experience preparing the presentation. I went back to that first presentation. In those days I was very comfortable in using metaphors in describing the world as I saw it. So it was perhaps no surprise that my very first presentation was entitled ‘Illuminating the Darkness: Escaping Plato’s Cave’. The first words of my presentation script were ‘the University and its environment are going through a great deal of change. The world is a turbulent place and however much we might crave stability, the turbulence is likely to continue – what we need to focus on is finding our way out of our Plato’s cave!’. For information onPlato’s Cave read here.

Even if I say so myself, the presentation was brilliant. Building upon my first 100 days of being in post and my analysis of where we were as School, I touched upon the: Bureaucracy and Busy-ness of our work; frustrating decision making; soliloquised student experiences; hierarchical heresies; technological timidity and triumphs; the autonomous academic; and the impact of horizontal scepticism. Yes I had lots more time to think more deeply about the world I inhabited than I perhaps have these days.

Of course the world has moved on but the challenges we face as a School have remained much the same. For a moment I was tempted to re-present that original presentation. It seemed apposite and I wondered if anyone would notice. The last slide of that first presentation displayed the names of all my colleagues working in the School at that time (surround yourself with great people). There were 154 names on the slide. Whilst many of those people were still working in the School, a great number are no longer with us. They have moved on to other Universities, retired or have sadly died. Today there are 243 colleagues working in the School. Back then we brought in £13m a year, now its £29m. Our student numbers have increased from 1779 to 4782.

Things have changed but some things remain the same. Friday saw me on my way to Abu Dhabi to scope out new opportunities for our programmes. I was travelling with my long time fellow Head of School Sue. It was her last trip as she is retiring at Christmas. We have shared some good times travelling together. On this occasion, being good corporate citizens we had eschewed our right to travel Business Class and had booked Economy tickets. Arriving at the airport we were greeted by a charming young man from Etihad who enquired if we were interested in upgrading to Business Class (for a small fee it has to be said). Sue and I looked at each other, and without hesitation said yes.

I am glad we did. We had space to reminisce and reflect on our shared histories. The space was important as it was a poignant and challenging day for Sue. A year ago to the day she suffered a great personal loss. The space meant we were able to spend some quality time in quiet celebration of some good times, personal, professional and for both of us, looking at what are likely to be very different futures. Of course being good corporate citizens we also put the 7 hour flight to good use and opened up the odd spread sheet (actually most spread sheets supplied by the Planning Department are odd) and did some work, work. 

Abu Dhabi – well it’s proving to be an interesting experience. Massive opportunities of course, but there are challenges too. Perhaps some of these are reflected in the exponential growth of the Emirate (as has been the case with others), a growth in real material terms (the city scape here is phenomenal) but also in expectations and societal aspirations. What’s clear, however, is that these are people not just looking to see if they can leave the shadows of Plato’s cave behind, but are determinedly striding towards the caves exit. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Thoughts about the authenticity of trying to do good things

Possibly this week's blog had its origins in a queue I stood in waiting to draw money out of a cash machine at the University. It was a long queue, and the waiting was interminable. I stood there in quiet contemplation aware of what was going on around me – I was half listening to fragments of the conversation of others, but largely dwelling on the problems I was having to deal with that day. So when I was tapped on the shoulder I jumped a foot into the air. A rather charming young man enquired, ‘Professor, would you like to take my place at the front of the queue?’

There was a little bit of giggling from some nursing students in front of me who heard the question being asked. I felt embarrassed, and declining the young man’s offer, I thanked him and waited once more for my turn to come. It was a long ten minutes. I wondered what it was that had prompted the young man to offer to give up his place.

The next day I chaired the Quality and Safety Meeting at the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust. Although I have been member of this committee for over a year, this was the first time I had chaired the meeting. These meetings are critical events that draw upon a wide range of data, information and intelligence in order to offer assurance to the Trust Board and through them the wider health and social care community. The information that is reviewed at these meetings in NHS Trusts across England provides the UK Government with its assurance that the quality of health care being provided meets the national requirements. I have always been tremendously impressed with the huge level of detail in this information, often the result of high quality and informed analysis, by colleagues working within very difficult time frames.

I found being part of the meeting as a participant was considerably easier than chairing. In any event the discussions were good, challenging and gave rise to plans of action that will enable change. At the end of the meeting I was both surprised (and again embarrassed) to be thanked for chairing the meeting so well. Much of my day job involves meetings, many of which I chair. However, I can’t remember the last time someone thanked me for chairing. Like with the actions of the young man in the cash machine queue the day before, I again wondered what had prompted the thanks.

These two acts in themselves might seem rather insignificant to some people, but they resonated and stayed with me during the week. I wondered if they were acts of kindness, acts of respect, or simply examples of organisational rhetoric. But on more than one occasion amidst the busy-ness of my Head of School role I pondered the motivation that might lay behind the words and actions. As Head of School my approach to leadership is predicated on transcendental concepts. For me this is about working to an approach that is about finding ways for others to best make their contribution to the School in the most effective and efficient and enjoyable way possible. It was Friedrich Nietzsche in his book Beyond Good and Evil (1886) who said ‘one loves ultimately ones desires, not the thing desired’. Nietzsche wrote these words a year after his two year relationship with Louise Salomé had ended. His words resonate with me for lots of reasons.

Lou Salomé was an amazing individual, a highly skilled psychoanalyst, an intellectual, who had an unconsummated marriage but enjoyed erotic filled relationships throughout her adult life, and someone who challenged accepted thinking on everything from the existence of God to the need for conventional relationships. She eschewed motherhood, and her feminist beliefs were brought to bear in a constant challenge to the battle against masculine will. Freud consulted her for advice as both a philosopher and psychoanalyst. . Her story is well worth reading. Irivn Yalom, 'When Nietzche Wept' fictional account of the relationship tells the story well

There is much about her approach to life I admire, and as challenging as it may have been to others I think she was authentic and she did good things for many others. I don’t know if she was ever thanked or asked if she wanted to take an others place at the head of a queue, but I hope I can be half as authentic as she was in doing good things for others.  

Sunday, 9 November 2014

A Week of Successes, Endorsements, Compassion, Care and Celebrations

Last week was another jam packed one at work. Monday was our School Executive. These are always busy meetings. We spend time on a mixture of governance, management and leadership issues as well as looking forward to new opportunities. This week we focused on how we might best address the new and emergent opportunities overseas. These are plenty and possibly the biggest area of new business growth for the School. It was clear we need to examine our current methods of delivery and to look at what we can change in order that the potential of the new opportunities might be realised.  

Part of the need to change how we do things arises from some great recent successes. Last week 3 colleagues were made Readers (well done Tracey, Sue and Alison); I signed off 3 Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP), and 4 research projects totalling nearly £800000 in income over the next 3 years. Our social science programmes successfully registered 46 additional students this year, and our counselling and psychotherapy programmes an additional 20 students (worth £2m additional income over the next 3 years) and we registered 17 new PhD students, who on Thursday joined our existing students when they presented their work at our School 'Celebrating Postgraduate Day'.

Last Tuesday the College of Social Work visited for the day and endorsed our Health and Care Professions Council approved part time Social Work programme. As a School we now have the largest portfolio of undergraduate, postgraduate and post-qualifying social work programmes in the North West. It is a great credit to our social work colleagues that they achieved the endorsement.

Wednesday I was across in Leeds at Blenheim House, the HQ of Health Education England (HEE), which is the organisation that spends over £5bn a year on health professions training. I was there to chair a sub group of the HEE national working group charged with transforming community and primary nursing care. I felt very privileged to be part of a group of colleagues who had so many examples of best practice today, and so many creative suggestions for transforming our nursing tomorrows.   

Thursday I spent the afternoon at the glorious Palace Hotel in Manchester. It’s a fantastic building and its industrial heritage has been so wonderfully preserved and given a contemporary use. The food served was a bit mediocre despite the grand surroundings. However I was there not to admire the architecture, or as a restaurant critic, but to chair an afternoon’s conference/workshop on student nurse retention, organised by Health Education North West. The issues and cost associated with students leaving their degree programme before completing are well known, and well researched. There was a brief reminder of some of these challenges but the main thrust of the afternoon was in the sharing of best practice examples of activities that were reducing the student attrition rates.

Representatives from all the Universities in the North West were there as were representatives from all our NHS hospital and community providers. Like me, it seemed that many of the participants were inspired and enthused by the ideas and examples that were presented and discussed. I was pleased that 3 colleagues from our School (Moira, Lesley and Neil) presented their work, which I know from a year on year increase in our retention rates, is really having an impact.

I was touched on Friday to see the story of the horse called Bronwen, who had been part of Sheila Marsh’s life for 25 years. Sheila was a patient at the Royal Albert Edward Hospital in Wigan where she was being treated for cancer. Sadly, last week she died, but before she did she asked to see her horse Bronwen, and staff from the hospital did just that. They brought the horse to the car-park and wheeled Sheila out in her bed. Although Shelia had difficulty speaking because of her illness, she called softly to the horse, who walked up to her and kissed Shelia on the cheek as they appeared to say goodbye to each other. The photo of this event went viral on the internet. It was a great example of the compassion shown to all patients and their families something I think the hospital should be justifiably proud of.

Friday night I was also in Wigan. At the DW Football Stadium in fact. Now this does not have the grand surroundings and ambiance of the Palace Hotel, but the meal I had there was immeasurably better. But again I wasn't there to admire the architecture or as a food critic, but as a Non-Executive Director of the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (the same trust that manages the Royal Albert Edward Hospital). It was the annual recognising excellence award night. 400 colleagues from across the Trust, whose work had been short listed for an award, were in attendance. 

The theme for the night was a Masquerade Ball, and every one had made an effort to comply with the dress code. It was a great night of colour, celebration, with much laughter, enjoyment, appreciation and pride. The awards went to clinical and non- clinical staff, to those in the front line of providing care and those who worked in support services. For me it was the perfect way to end a very hectic week. 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Whatever you want - put it into your Memory Suitcase, Pod or Hen-house

No one chooses when they are born. I was born in 1955. Some 11 years later, Pink Floyd and Soft Machine appeared at the Round House (Camden, London) when it was owned by Centre 42. I missed these performances – but they were playing at the launch of the underground newspaper International Times (IT). These days in the UK it’s difficult to think what an underground newspaper might be, or why we might need it. The main stream media picks up (often in real time), social injustice, political wrong doing and human tragedy. We are all able to write the odd polemic email, and as individuals we can use social media to communicate our feelings and concerns and share these with like minded others.  

However, back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s it was a different story. Back then the liberalism of contemporary thinking and the stratification of the prevailing social order was very different. Then IT, and its sister underground newspaper OZ were prosecuted for what were seen to be obscene images and messages, for having lonely hearts ads that sought same sex relationships and so on. I used to read these newspapers and still have a large collection of the spin out Zap Bijou comic books featuring amongst others, the cartoons of Jay Lynch and Robert Crumb.

You may be wondering what has brought on this wave of nostalgia. Well it was Status Quo actually. Now I have seen many live groups including Led Zeppelin, the Incredible String Band, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen, Rod Stewart to just a few, and often at the Roundhouse, but I had never seen Status Quo in concert. Last week their acoustic concert at the Camden Roundhouse was being shown on a televised version of a radio show. I don’t know how that works but you just press the Red Button and there you are, almost sitting in the audience able to see and hear every note being played.

Watching the concert I was transformed right back to the days of my youth and the world I grew up in. It was an almost magical experience. My neural pathways were buzzing, with memories (good and bad) and thought connections that weren't quite random. Francis Rossi (the bands co-founder) is just 6 years older than me, and 5 years ago he cut of his trademark ponytail, something he had for 35 years! Last week, a well-meaning friend suggested I cut mine off as it would make me look 10 years younger – as I write this it’s still there.

So in what was a busy week, it was wonderful to enjoy this oasis of warm memories intermingled with future thoughts. I was dipping into my memory suitcase and not only enjoying every moment, but also thinking about what some of those experiences have meant for me. I have written previously about the award winning memory suitcase initiative for those living with dementia or caring for those with dementia (see here). It’s a fabulous project, created and run by the Liverpool Museum, and it was Carol Rogers (the Director of Education and Communities at the museum) who suggested that 'museums look after memories' a delightful notion.  

It is the contents of the suitcase that are important. An artefact can prompt a memory that can start a conversation where a conversation perhaps hasn't been possible due to an individual’s short term memory loss. As dementia progresses, cognitive skills and short term memory reduce – but often longer term memories can be tapped into. Last week I was due to see a slightly different approach at the Wrighington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust innovative dementia pods.  

Dementia pods are a creative approach that uses pop-up  rooms designed to be reminiscent of a bygone era, and can help reassure patients who are living with dementia. Designed in retro themes they are filled with authentic furniture and memorabilia enabling and encouraging patients to talk about memories they still retain. The dementia pods simply pop up or down so are ideal for a ward environment and can turn any care space into a therapeutic and calming environment. I didn't get there due to a problems with the ward that meant it was closed for the 24 hour I as due to be there. I am looking forward to having the visit re-arranged. 


The greatest boost to my memory suitcase last week was seeing the wonderful article in Fridays Telegraph newspaper. This featured the work of the brilliant HenPower project, something I first heard about this summer when I met, serendipitously, the charismatic Jos Forester-Melville (a henologist) and HenPower Project Manager. I really like the idea of using hens to tackle loneliness in older men and the difference hens can make to older men living with dementia. Read the story hereAnd if anyone is looking for a Christmas present that would also double as a artefact for my memory suitcase, well 'The Complete Zap Comix' edition is due to be published on the 22nd Nov, and absolute snip at just under £300! 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Smoke and Fire, Bikini Black Risk Reduction, and Around Britain on a Mobility Scooter

We are coming to the end of ‘Stoptober’ 2014 (see my previous thoughts on this here). I don’t smoke and don’t allow smoking inside the house. I mention this as smoking is still one of the main causes of fire deaths in Greater Manchester. Over the last 7 years 40% of people who have died during fires in Greater Manchester, perished in fires started by a cigarette. Across the UK, 1770 people are either killed or injured by fires caused by smoking at home. A fire caused by smoking happens once every 3 days. During this year’s Stoptober, fire-fighters in Greater Manchester have been out disturbing leaflets which describe the dangers of smoking, and smoking in the house.

2 years ago I took full advantage of having a home safety check undertaken by these fire-fighters at the Bolton House. The result was the fitting of state of the art smoke detectors, said to last 10 years without any need to change batteries or anything else, and complete peace of mind. However despite not smoking, I was slightly alarmed [sorry] when one of the detectors started to make a most peculiar scratching sound. After contacting the fire service once more, an enthusiastic fire-fighter attended the house and in minutes had changed all the detectors. They were from the same batch, so it was the safest thing to do. It was a great service, and peace of mind was re-established.

The Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) provides a service for communities across nearly 500 square miles. It employs 2174 fire-fighters. It has its Headquarters in Pendlbury, Greater Manchester. I was there last week. The BIKINI security level alert was Black and Severe – (an attack is highly likely). I was struck by just how unaware I had become of such things.

I was there to discuss how colleagues from the School and other parts of the University could work in partnership with GMFRS in taking their new Community Risk Intervention Team (CRIT) project forward and to evaluate its effectiveness in preventing and reducing the number of fires, the number of older people who fall, who are the victims of distraction burglaries, and increasing mental health and general wellbeing of people. The GMFRS have secured nearly a £1m to pilot the scheme in Wigan, Salford, and Manchester and a further £3.7m to roll it out across the whole of Greater Manchester. 

The notion of early intervention and prevention is aimed at reducing the demand for fire, ambulance and police resources. Prevention work such as the fitting of smoke detectors, Stoptober campaigns has helped reduce the number of 999 calls GMFRS receive and have to deal with. Whilst the CRIT project draws upon a soon to be employed dedicated workforce, the intention will be that fire-fighters will eventually take on this work. I was excited as the project provides an opportunity for our colleagues from sociology, social policy, nursing, and social work to join with colleagues from other Schools across the university to work together on a project that will improve peoples lives.  

Well that was last Thursday. On Friday, I had a meeting with other Deans and Heads of School from across the North West to discuss some changes to our NHS contracts – a difficult meeting in part. Coming after the meeting with GMFRS, in my mind it reinforced the need to think how we might change our Schools educational and training portfolio to reflect a rapidly changing world of health and social care service provision.

I was able to leave the School at 15.00 to take the road back to the House in Scotland. There were no problems on the journey home, but it was dark when I arrived. On my way to the Anchor Hotel for a Friday dinner out, I was confronted by what seemed to be an unnaturally large amount of flashing lights where there should really be complete darkness. It turned out to be Mark Newton and his mobility scooter. Somewhat reminiscent of a pinball machine on wheels (younger readers can ask your parents what a pin ball machine is) his scooter was parked outside of the Hotel and was lit up like a Saturday night at Blackpool

Mark was a serving member of the armed forces when he suffered a life changing injury to his right leg. By 2009 his mobility was considerably reduced due to his continued deterioration in his physical condition and he was presented with a mobility scooter by the Queens Dragoon Guards (his old regiment) and the Royal British Legion. He was inspired to take to the road by a chance conversation where someone remarked he could travel around Britain on his scooter. And that is what he is doing. He is busy raising money for Help the Hero’s, and the Royal British Legion, and the Queens Dragoon Guards. As I write this blog Mark has raised nearly £38k for these charities. If you would like to make a donation, you can do so here.  

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Time to Think with a Giant Rooster, in Chester and in Bed with Jack

In some ways it felt like there wasn't much time to think last week. On Monday my day started at 06.00 and I had just 60 minutes at my desk before the day's first meeting occurred. I left the office 12 hours later having attended just 3 meetings all day, but these were 3 long meetings, each of which ran straight into the next. Tuesday there were 8 scheduled meetings with a series of ad-hoc meetings occurring in the middle of the day.

Wednesday I had 2 meetings with colleagues before driving over to the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel in Manchester for a Council of Deans (Health) Executive away day. This hotel is one of my favourites. The building (or at least part of the building) was once Manchester’s premier concert hall, the Free Trade Hall, home of the internationally famous Halle Orchestra. One of the reasons I like the hotel is its eclectic art collection, the latest addition being a giant Rooster created by Lotus Arts de Vivre. In Chinese Feng Shui the Rooster is a decorative animal often placed in a house to ward of everything from snakes to evil people and anything in between that might bring trouble and or bad luck to the house.  

Another reason I liked the hotel is its fast and free wi fi. So I felt confident that I would be able to keep up with the days email demands while being at the away day. What I hadn't bargained for was being asked to turn off all my electronic gadgets and to keep them off until it was time to leave later on that day. As I knew I had to leave Manchester and drive across to Chester for an evening’s meeting the thought of not being able stay in touch with things was extremely annoying.

The facilitator for the day (Gill) was fantastic however. She was an advocate and student of the Thinking Environment, and drew upon the work of Nancy Kline. Nancy’s books are well worth reading. The founding concept of her work is that the quality of everything we do depends upon the quality of the thinking we do first. The quality of our thinking depends on the way we treat each other while we are thinking. Guided by 10 behaviours that generate the best thinking (attention, equality, ease, appreciation, encouragement, feelings, information, diversity, incisive questions and place) Gill enabled the finest day of thinking, strategic planning and action agreement I have ever been part of.

At the end of the day, I trekked across the countryside during the rush hour traffic to Chester. I was staying at the Double Tree Hilton, for the University Executive annual planning conference. The evening session was an opportunity to discuss our strategic aims with the VC and our new Chair of Council, Baroness Beverley Hughes. Both the VC and Chair sat on my table at dinner, so there was also an opportunity to get to know the person behind their University role.

The following day was a full-on day of exploration, discussion, and decision making around the main aims of our strategic plan. However, for me the quality of our thinking didn't feel quite like that of the previous day. The encouragement and attentiveness was there, but unlike the previous day, gaining a voice was a great deal more difficult. Whilst in my experience of such days at the University, this was a good one, only time will tell if the quality of outcome delivers what we hope it will. Friday, was a repeat of Monday in terms of meetings and time, with the only difference being the middle meeting was held off campus so there were a couple of journeys that served to break the day up. Last night, (well this morning really) young Jack (who celebrated his 3rd birthday last week) was staying overnight. He went off to sleep without any trouble, but then appeared at my bedside at 02.00 to tell me he couldn't sleep. It was something to do with a certain Mr Tumble and a tractor apparently

He climbed into my bed, and was soon fast asleep again. However, I was then wide awake. So for the last few hours I have taken the opportunity to reflect and think about my week, (hence this post) and I realised the importance of making time for appreciative deep thinking, which, as I write this with Jack beside me, asleep and completely content with the world, is very different from deep sleeping. Off to Leeds see the some of my other grandchildren later, so I'm going to snuggle down now and see if I can get 40 winks sleep!