Sunday, 30 March 2014

Posh Food that Disappoints, CEOs who Don’t, and an Eye to the Future

I went to London last Thursday. It was an early enough train to enjoy a breakfast before opening up the lap top to start working. Feeling hungry, I ordered the Vegetable Grill (Virgin Rail's answer to a full English Breakfast). When it came I was so disappointed. It wasn't even served on a proper plate, rather on the funny china tray thing that the coffee cup sits in. There was one vegetarian sausage, one fried egg, half a tomato, a flat hash brown and a dollop of what appeared to be over cooked spinach. I was less than impressed.

Unfortunately, the food at Salford’s Ceremonial Mayors Charity Dinner also disappointed. That was Friday night and the dinner was in aid of two charities, Salford Young Carers and the Salfordian, a hotel in Southport, run by the Salfordian Trust that provides affordable holidays and respite for older people who live in Salford. The dinner was held at a lovely setting, and there was a good table of people, half of which were vegetarians. The vegetable soup starter was tepid, the main course, cold couscous (not my favourite even when served hot), topped with a chickpea stuffed ravioli, which was dry and barely warm - there was no sauce.

Thankfully lots of money was raised during the evening for the two good causes, and I was able to have a cheese and pickle sandwich on my return. One of the tables at the dinner was filled with a group from the Salford Royal Foundation Trust. Sir David (Dalton) was hosting the table, and he was one of the top 50 Chief Executives recognised by the Health Service Journal last week. A panel of very distinguished judges were engaged to assess and identify the top performing chief executives (not the chief executive of the top performing Trusts).

In an era where the average time in post for many chief executives is just 700 days, the judges were looking at how great an impact has the individuals leadership had within their organisation and beyond; how effective the individual is as a communicator, and to what level is openness fostered; to what extent has the individual created an organisation that is person centred, focusing on patient care; and to what extent is the individual recognised as a mentor of other leaders or colleagues in the NHS.

And so it was great to see Andrew Foster up there in the top 50! Andrew is chief executive of the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Foundation Trust. This is a major acute NHS Trust, and one where I am proud to be a Non-Executive Director. Andrew was recognised for his longevity, compassion, leadership and inclusiveness. He has been chief executive at the Trust since January 2007, and he and his team have done great things for the Trust in terms of improving the quality and safety of the health care services they provide. Many congratulations Andrew.

One of the services the WWL Trust runs is an eye unit in Wigan, and was I interested last week to read of how the structure of eyes might help us detect early stages of Alzheimer's disease, a major cause of dementia. To date more than 26 million people worldwide are estimated to live with dementia, and this number is expected to quadruple by 2050. The research, carried out by the Cedars Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute, used state of the art imaging and immunological techniques to reveal eye abnormalities and changes to two areas of retina. Whilst there is much more research to be done, this study points to a very exciting new direction in growing our understanding of this condition. 

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Two Fat Ladies, Ruby Wax and the 22 Doctors in the Village

For me, it was so sad that aged 66, Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright died last week. Her last name was given to her in memory of her Fathers favourite pig – I had a momentary thought, oh what a wonderful idea... It’s said she had a dreadful childhood, a childhood that was characterised by domestic abuse and a father who was alcoholic. He was also surgeon to the Queen and the Royal Family.

She was called to the bar and was the youngest female barrister ever, but many of us remember her best as half of the very successful TV programme Two Fat Ladies. It was one of my favourites. Riding around the countryside on a motorbike and side car, Clarissa and her screen partner, Jennifer Patterson were irrepressibly and completely antipathetic in terms of political correctness. Clarissa was deliciously her own woman and accepted that life had its ups and downs. She made and lost a fortune due to her own choices and excesses. Who’s Who list her recreations as ‘hunting, shooting, fishing, food, rugby and men’. Enough said, RIP Clarissa.

Tuesday saw my stage debut with Ruby Wax. We were both sharing a stage at the START Mental Health is Everyone’s Business conference. In the splendour of Peel Hall at the University of Salford, the day was spent exploring mental health issues and what we all can do to maintain our own mental health and well-being. It was a great conference, albeit I was running on pure adrenaline due to a cold and cough. Ruby was full on and passionate about sharing her experiences of depression and how she uses mindfulness to keep her in a good place as far as her mental health and well-being is concerned.

My mental health and well-being is considerably enhanced by leaving Greater Manchester behind on a Friday and arriving at the House in Scotland. Last Friday it was good to arrive and to take a stroll down to the Anchor Hotel, where Sharon and Robert were on hand to offer a complimentary glass of wine to celebrate the re-opening of bars following being flooded in January this year. It was the perfect prelude to episode six of Student Nurses; Bedpans and Bandages (ITV, 20.00 Friday nights).

And yesterday I had the pleasure of sharing a glass of wine or two with Paddy. Paddy is the oldest person in the village, a lady in her nighties, and a lady with a distinct tinkle in her eyes. We were both at a house warming party – the average age was 60+. Now 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).

I'm not sure how many fashion designers there are in the village, but last week also saw the tragic death of L’Wren Scot. She died in New York, apparently ending her own life. L’Wren was someone who fiercely defended the goodness of her childhood upbringing. She was brought up by adoptive Mormon parents in Utah. She had been in a relationship with the Roiling Stone front man Mick Jagger for 13 years. Losing someone to suicide is in my experience, a hugely difficult thing to understand, especially for those who were close to the person. RIP L’Wren.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Language, meaning, campaigning and that Ig Nobel Prize

I'm writing this weeks blog full of a cold. I've a sore throat, headache, streaming nose, and I'm unable to sleep. I think there must be a bug going around as other colleagues in the School have gone down with similar problems. It’s that way sometimes, you get to the end of the week, ready to start the weekend full of relaxation and you’re suddenly laid up with a bug of one sort or the other – and last week felt like a long one to get through!

Monday I was into my 5th day of an Industrial Tribunal hearing. I gave evidence and was cross examined for over 4 hours on the day, an exhausting experience both, mentally and physically. Language and meaning was a constant point or argument and debate throughout the court case. The use of language and its meaning was also an issue on Tuesday when I had to present next year’s Operational Plan to the University Executive, although the experience wasn't anywhere near as adversarial as being a respondent in the court case!

I was also gently chastised for my choice of language and the meaning others gave to my words last week. Both rebukes were, on refection, justified. The first arose from something said in last week's blog, about moving furniture being a young man's job as far as I was concerned these days. I could have perhaps expressed myself better, perhaps choosing to use ‘a fit person’s job’. The second was on Twitter, where in a discussion about Facebook usage, I suggested that for some young people it might give rise to false perceptions of reality’. Perhaps different perceptions of reality’ might have been a better way of describing what I was meaning.

Of course over time the meaning of some of the words used to describe something will change – I can remember my children saying something was ‘bad’ meaning something was really ‘good’. I had a different language and meaning challenge last week. I was reading this poster which appeared amongst all the Student Union ‘Vote for Me’ election posters displayed everywhere. It was the use of the words ‘tits’ that I didn't like. Most dictionaries describe ‘tit’ as being an old English word of Germanic origin related to teat or nipple, a small bird, or a foolish person. It’s the plural ‘tits’ that is most commonly described as a form of vulgar slang, imported from the US in the early 20th century.

The campaign the poster relates to is entirely worthwhile. Aimed at the newspaper the Sun, it wants an end to Page 3 Girls. Featuring bare breasted women in a national newspaper for no other reason than the display of a naked woman perpetuates the notion of the sexual objectification of women, sexism, and inequality. The campaign is gathering a number of very high profile supporters and the petition had just fewer than 190,000 names this morning. 800,000 is the target. If you want to support go to 

I am going to resist making a link between supporting this campaign and the research of Jean-Denis Rouillon from the University of Besancon published last week. But if you are a woman aged between 18-35 you might want to read the report of his work here

…however, I couldn't resist noting the related story of the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize Winner Dr Elena Bodnar, President of the Trauma Risk Management Research Institute. The high impact journal Nature describes the Ig Nobel awards as 'awards that come with little cash, but much cachet – they reward those research projects that first make people laugh, and then make them think’.

Dr Bodnar, who started her career as a physician in the Ukraine during the Chernobyl nuclear accident invented the Emergency Bra. The Emergency Bra is a bra that becomes a face mask. Whilst it won’t protect you (and a friend) from Chernobyl radiation exposure or napalm, it can stop you breathing in harmful airborne particles as many people did in the aftermath of 9/11. The web site doesn't say anything about whether it can be used for those suffering a heavy head cold though 'Tak i 6yTN' as they say in the Ukraine. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Magicians Sleight of Hand: All change, or No change?

Today is a Red Letter Day for my youngest daughter. She is moving out and into her new home with her partner and young Jack. Yesterday was filled with great excitement, sheer hard work, and much loading and unloading of the ubiquitous white hire van. Today my back is telling me that I am getting too old to be taking wardrobes and other assorted furniture downstairs and then take them back upstairs in the new house. It’s definitely a young man’s job. I think next week my house will be a very quiet and still place.

Unusually Cello has been very quiet and still. No long walks for him last week. Last Tuesday he somehow managed to damage his dewclaw, necessitating a minor operation, antibiotics, and pain killers. He is also very sensitive to change and his eyes have been full of anxiety as he’s watched the packing up and moving. Unlike me, he will probably welcome the peace and quiet and regaining his absolute position as the centre of attention in the house hold. Billy the parrot, who also thinks he should be the centre of everyone’s attention, simply said ‘I despair’ and spent the entire time delicately grooming each and every one of his feathers.

And last week there was a lot of noise (and then complete quiet) over the announcement made by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills and the Health Education England about the introduction of Higher Apprenticeships for Nursing. Like Billy, my initial reaction when seeing the announcement was ‘I despair!’. Like any other apprentice scheme, this one is only a way to gain a qualification, it is not a qualification in its own right. Nursing is now an all graduate profession and so anyone contemplating this apprentice scheme would still need to study and gain a degree in nursing.

The origins of this initiative appear to have come, partly as a response to the Cavendish Review chaired by Camilla Cavendish. This review looked at the training needs and the future regulation of Health Care Assistants (HCA). The review was itself prompted by the Francis Report into the provision of care at Mid-Staffordshirel. The contribution HCAs make to the care of patients has been long recognised, although they do not have a voice in the same way as nurses and other health care professionals have.

The apprentice scheme is also said to make it easier for HCA (and others) who may not have the necessary traditional qualifications to enter Universities and nurse education programmes. However, many of our students have worked as HCAs, and like other universities, we also have many different ways in which potential students can access or programmes. The new apprentices would still have to undertake a NMC approved nursing degree, so it’s difficult to see what this so called ‘change’ and ‘opportunity’ is all about.

All this change has prompted me into action. My intention this afternoon, in the newly found peace and quiet, is to refresh my blogs look. So this is the last time the blog will appear in this format – as they say, watch this space!  

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Being an unauthentic Me, on SoME, and Ian’s Arm/Leg

Sometimes my blog is a self-indulgent journey. This is one of those posts. One day last week I was tweeted the question: can anyone tell me in 140 characters what Heidegger is on about. Please? Having nothing better to do at that precise moment, the unauthentic self in me prompted me to respond with: the Question of Being – me, me and you, me and you being there, being with and being me/you, or maybe not. To save you the trouble, this response is 106 characters long including spaces. Of course my response was a little tongue in cheek, metaphorically speaking, or should that be, metaphysically speaking?

Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher who work is often associated with phenomenology and existentialism, and for many his ideas are viewed as being extremely influential in the development of contemporary European philosophy. Given Heidegger’s thesis, my favourite philosopher, Michel Foucault, acknowledged Heidegger as a philosopher whose work he had read, but as far as I know he never referred to in his writings. In any event his reputation was considerable and arose from his most important work Being and Time.

This was densely written piece of work that challenged the basic metaphysical questions of existence – ‘does God exist’, ‘does the chair I see across the room exist’, ‘does mind, conceptualised as an entity separate from a body exist’ and so on. All questions that presuppose we already know what ‘to exist’ means. Most of us don’t notice or think about such a presupposition, but Heidegger did, and as they say the rest is history! Heidegger’s existential analytic remains the stuff of many an authentic (and possibly unauthentic) PhD supervision session.

The questions Heidegger posed can be found everywhere and in each of our everyday lives. Ian McGregor could be excused for asking the question when is my arm a leg and vice versa. Ian had battled against a cancerous tumour that had spread from his pelvis into his thigh for over 10 years. Treatment had been unsuccessful. In a radical paradigm shifting approach, surgeons removed his leg, and tumour, and attached this minus the bones to his arm to keep the blood flow intact. Over time they then used his calf to rebuild the tumour removal site. A year on he is pain and tumour free. I wish him well.  

I guess Heidegger, would probably turn in his grave at some of the thinking to be found on the web site social media today. I like the pursuit of existentialist freedom, choice linked to the use of agile technology and new ways of communication. Last week I discovered a wonderful piece by Christopher Carfi and Frederik Hermann on social media marketing. They outline some of the changes organisations need to be aware of if they are going to grow and succeed in the turbulent times facing many of us. Some of these are perhaps obvious, like marketing (using social media or other approaches) needing to be linked to results, or the rise of social+ video (78% of adult internet users watch or download on-line videos, and 72% of on-line adults use video sharing sites).

Some were more challenging. Relentless analytics for example, the measurement of effectiveness, arguably, almost impossible to define (at least in a Heideggerian sense) and content curation versus content creation. As I was noting last week in the notion of using existing video games in therapeutic ways, sometimes we don’t always need to create something from first principles to get where we want to be. It’s really about understanding the community you want to connect to. But perhaps that is straying into the notion of Sarte’s facticity – enough philosophy for one blog!