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!