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! 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Yet another blog about cigarettes, women and sex

At this time of the year, as I have done every year since I've been posting my weekly blog, I write about smoking, or rather about trying to get people to stop smoking. I make no apologies for using my blog in this way, I am passionate about trying to persuade smoker’s to stop. It’s the one best thing anyone can do to improve their health and wellbeing.

 I was surprised last week to read that from the 10th November advertisers will be able to show electronic cigarettes in TV advertisements. There are 2.1m adults who currently use e-cigarettes in the UK. Of these 700.000 are ex tobacco smokers, but 1.3m people use both e-cigarettes and tobacco. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has ruled that adverts must not: target the under 18 year old's or non-smokers; must not show tobacco 'in a positive light'; or claim e-cigarettes are 'safer' of 'healthier' than smoking tobacco. However, despite what have been some tenuous claims made for the public health benefits of e-cigarettes, I think there must be a risk that these adverts will re-normalise smoking. Advertising tobacco products is banned in the UK, and for good reasons. 

Last week, those interesting folk over in the Office for National Statistics published their report on the Statistics of Smoking in England (2014)Despite its somewhat dry title, it is worth reading. Some of the key outcomes reported include: 20% of the adult population aged over the age of 16, are smokers, a slight decrease over the last decade. In the same time period the price of tobacco has increased by 80%. Encouragingly, the number of children aged 11 – 15 who have tried smoking has fallen from 42% in 2003 to 22% in 2013. 

Whilst there has been a slight increase in the number of people getting a prescription from their GP to help them stop smoking, 1.8m last year compared to 1.6m in 2003 the cost of the medications prescribed (£48m this year) is down from the £66m in 2010 and £58 spent in 2012. There are other costs of course. There are 1.6m hospital admissions for adults aged 35 and over, where the primary diagnosis is of a disease that can be caused by smoking. Just under 500,000 hospital admissions however, are directly attributable to smoking. In 2013, one in six deaths (approximately 80,000) of adults aged 35 and over were caused by smoking.

When asked, 43% of all current smokers reported wanting to give up smoking. 75% had tried to give up at some point in the past. As I write this there are 257746 people signed up for Stoptober. This is a national campaign aimed at persuading and supporting smokers to give up for 28 days. The evidence suggests that if someone can stop smoking for 28 days they are 5 times more likely to stop for good. There's lots of free support, ideas, apps and so on to be found here.

I also make no apologies for the unashamed use of the word sex in the title. Experience has shown me that if I include the 'S' word in the blogs title I can get 5 or 6 times the readership, important when trying to reach as many people as possible – however, for any female readers of the blog, recent Italian research has shown that as well as been an aphrodisiac, eating one apple a day can improve the sex lives of women. And if you are interested in finding out more, you can read about it here

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Deer that Walk on Water, Disruptive Women and Digital Health Futures

Today is the last day of my holiday. Its amazing to think that 7 days ago I was sitting here, in the House in Scotland, writing a blog on what was the first day of my holiday. The week has flown past and I've really benefited from a slowing down. There have been plenty of walks on leaf strewn paths that meander through woodland landscapes that are full of glorious autumnal colours. There’s been time to enjoy the garden, re-discover there is such a thing as lunch time, catch up with friends, and get through the backlog of books on my Kindle

While Cello and I have been enjoying the quiet of deserted beaches and woods, the deer have taken to wandering around the village. There is a female with 2 young in tow, who has been busy introducing her offspring to the delights of late, flowering plants, the apples and pears still on the trees and anything else that takes their fancy. There have also been many plenty of single deer around. The best sighting was one evening at Threave Castles Stepping Stones, looking for the otters that had been reported being seen there, when out of the gloom came a single deer, who as she walked across the stones looked for all the world as if she was walking on the water.

In a week where the major community event was the opening of the local public pier, I was interested to read the e-book- A Global Conversation: Improving the Health of Vulnerable Communities. This is an absolutely brilliant collection of narratives by the Disruptive Women in Health Care Group. This is a group of women who use the power of digital interconnectivity to collectively explore and collaborate in addressing the challenges facing all of us in finding ways to improve health care and health service delivery.

I would highly recommend that anyone seriously interested in really making a difference takes the time to read this e-book. I am grateful to one of our professors, Louise Ackers, for bringing this work to my attention. Interestingly at our last Performance Development Review (PDR) meeting I congratulated Louise for being a superbly disruptive colleague. However, I don’t think she saw my description of her contribution to the work of the School as being in any way complimentary at the time.   

Although I steered clear of work emails, I couldn't resist looking at my Twitter account from time to time. And I am glad I did. Thanks to Leslie Robinson (from our sister School, the School of Health Sciences) for tweeting a report from the Commonwealth Fund that also looks at global health, and how digital health could be better harnessed to deal with global health issues. The report brings together the views and experiences of health care consumers, technologists, investors and professionals in exploring how the barriers to embracing digital health might be overcome. 

Of course many people make their own contribution to helping others living overseas, particularly those who are suffering distress and illness through no fault of their own. Alan Henning was one such man. A taxi driver by trade, he had volunteered (for the 4th time) to help drive an aid convoy to Syria for the Muslim charity Aid4Syria. 10 months ago he was kidnapped, and yesterday we heard the news that he had been murdered by the so called Islamic State of Iraq. On this last day of my holiday I am going to take time later to walk one more time in the woods. My thoughts will be with Alan’s family and his loving wife Barbara, who is a colleague at the University.