Sunday, 14 September 2014

My Dog Day Thoughts of a Spirograph Dame in Estonia

Last week turned out to be a bit of a Spirograph working week. I would normally say at this point that younger readers wouldn't know what I was talking about. However, as Spirograph was re-launched as a toy in 2013, I guess all will know what a Spirograph is. It was Toy of the Year finalist in 2014 nearly 50 years after it won this accolade in 1967. This was the year my parents gave it to me as a birthday present. I can remember being fascinated by the cogs, wheels and little pins with red plastic caps (now replaced with H+S compliant sticky putty) which when used with care, could produce fascinating line drawings.

The drawings were created by having a circular fixed point, around which one could rotate different size wheels with offset holes drilled in them which produced pictures where the connecting lines formed the most amazing hypotrochoid and epitrochoid curved pictures. It was these happy memories that came to the fore when I was thinking about the lifetime connections that featured in my week’s experience.

It was a week of travel. From Scotland to Manchester, Manchester to London and back to Manchester before going to Frankfurt and then Tallinn. It was then off to Brussels and then back to Manchester. And today I travel to Dundee before returning once more to Manchester on Monday evening. I was in London for a meeting of the Health Education England Transforming Nursing for Community and Primary Care; Workforce Project Steering Group. This is an exciting group to be part of, a group committed to changing the face of community and primary care nursing and importantly for me, open to rethinking the educational preparation of the future workforce.

The spirographical connection here was in the discussion around community mental health nursing – where data underpinning the workforce planning trends appeared to suggest a possible reduction of such nurses in the future, something that was counter intuitive to the way in which many international mental health services are developing. Some great examples of which I came face to face with in Tallinn. I was there for the 3rd European Conference on Mental Health. It was a good conference, made more so by the number of colleagues and friends of many years who also attended.

There were papers on the rhetoric of recovery, the use of technology in mental health care, and mental health care education, what makes for effective child and young people’s mental health services, nursing in the Caribbean (which did seem a little different from Salford). There was one paper I particularly liked. It was a paper presented by a geneticist who seemed to suggest that the reason I like to have the occasional glass of wine in the evening was all down to my Mother and her genes J

I enjoyed a number of papers of how we perhaps need to rethink our approach providing services to military veterans – and these papers were not all about Post Traumatic Stress Disorders by any means. Several of the speakers provided valuable insight into the culture and personal/shared context of those who have served in the military and may now be living with mental health issues. I am glad we are engaging with this work in the School.

There were papers on forensic mental health but I didn't get to these. There was a spirographical connection to forensic mental health nevertheless. I picked up on Twitter that a fire had taken the lives of 60 dogs at the Manchester Dogs Home, and that a 15 year old had been arrested (and subsequently released on bail) in connection with the fire. Whatever emerges about the involvement or not of this this young man, it's a sad fact that arson is the single largest cause of fires in the UK. On average 3500 fires a week are the results of arson, with arson related fires costing us all over £1.5 billion pounds a year, and resulting in over a 1000 deaths a year. Children and young people aged between the age of 10 – 19 are responsible for over 50% of all arson related fires in the UK. A high proportion of these fires are fires started in Schools.

In 1984, spirograph in hand, I started working at the Gardener Unit, the only NHS forensic mental health service for adolescents. One of the early patients we cared for had been sentenced for the offence of arson. It seemed the offence was related to the young person’s response to a life threatening condition that was acquired through no fault of their behaviour, or action on their behalf. The desperation of that young patients experience came to mind when I thought about the young man somehow connected to the Manchester Dogs Home fire.

It also brought to mind, with great fondness. the formidable Professor Dame Sue Bailey (who until recently was the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists) who still works a Consultant Psychiatrist at the Gardener Unit. She is an amazing mental health professional who has campaigned tirelessly for the UK government to spend more money and resources on the areas that might ensure children and young people don’t development mental health problems in the first place.

And for me this thought was the final spirographical connection. Yes it is sad that 60 dogs died in the fire, but what kind of society are we, where because of our actions we still need dog homes. In 2011, the Stray Dog Survey (undertaken by the Dogs Trust, the UKs largest dog welfare charity) reported that 126,176 dogs a year were being taken into Local Authority care a year. The Manchester Dogs Home takes in 7000 dogs a year. Most of these dogs are dogs that have abandoned by people who for whatever reason can't or don't want to look after them any more.

Perhaps not surprisingly, since the news of the fire hit Twitter last Thursday over £1 million has been raised in response to the fire. I am sure much of this money will be used to re-build the dogs home, but wouldn't it be great if we could create a society where young people don't need to experience mental health problems and we don't need a home for abandoned dogs – that indeed would be a perfect Spirograph picture.