Sunday, 29 March 2015

No time to say goodbye, taking time to say goodbye and au revoir Steve

We will never know what was in the mind of Andreas Lubitiz last week when he set the flight monitoring system of the Airbus A320 he was flying, to descent mode. The plane was travelling at 435 mph and some 8 minutes later it crashed into the mountains near Seyne-les-Alpes in the French Alps killing all 150 people on board. Initially there was much speculation about whether Lubitiz should have been flying as he had a past history of depression. The World Health Organisation estimate that globally, there are 350 million people living with depression (see here for more information). However, to date there is no evidence that the despair that often comes with depression was the cause here. 

Indeed, cases such as this, where one person wishing to end their life does so by taking the lives of others (in this case, complete strangers) at the same time is extremely rare. The evidence suggests that most murder-suicides happen in domestic situations and most often involve a man and his wife or partner. What led Lubitiz to commit this inexplicable and devastating act almost defies explanation. There are a multitude of possible factors that might be involved. A particular emotional state or a particular personality trait might provide the trigger for such extreme behaviour, but factors such a alcohol problems, drug misuse, relationship issues thwarted ambitions could all play a part.

I literally cannot imagine what the families of those who died in this tragedy must be going through. The loss of life in any circumstance is difficult to deal with and understand. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist was most famous for her work in describing what she called the 5 stages of emotional grief survivors of an intimate’s death experience: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  However, dealing with such a loss, and in the inexplicable   circumstances of the Airbus 320 crash must feel almost impossible.

Kübler-Ross most famous book On Death and Dying (1969) was inspired by her work with people who had a life shortening illness. Last week I was also inspired by the stories of Brian, Gerry, and John, three people living with prostate cancer. 1 in 8 men in the UK will receive this diagnosis. Cancer Research UK note that 10,837 men died from prostate cancer in 2012. This compares to 11,716 women (and men) who died of breast cancer, and the 5,981 men and women who committed suicide during the same period. What made these 3 men's stories inspiring for me was the way they captured their thoughts and feelings in photographs to tell of their experiences. Have a look here. 

And it was Gorgeous Steve who told of his experiences at the end of last week. Friday was his last day at the School. My cool, calm and 100% bullet proof colleague, Steve was retiring. We gathered together to celebrate his contribution to the School, the University, the profession of social work and to the many people’s lives he had touched  during his career. When the Social Workers joined the School back in late 2010, it was Steve who led the way. He later became Director and steered the social work directorate through some very tricky times. 

I have very much enjoyed working with Steve, and all through time I have known him he has been his own man. Not someone you could hurry, he worked at his own pace, but always delivered. He cared for others, the profession of social work and was an excellent educationalist. I will miss his smile, his 'you are not going to like this' introduction to his solution based approach to problems, his knowledge, generosity and above all else his unconditional positive regard towards others. He helped me see the value in recognising the strengths rather than weaknesses in others. I wish you well Steve but I will miss your warmth and friendship - so maybe not goodbye but au revoir!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

A Green Clog Tuesday full of Good News Story’s

One of my colleagues, Amanda, was in the news last week. Hers was a story of superb leadership in leading a team of colleagues in securing accreditation from the North West Simulation Education Network for the Schools simulation resources as a centre of excellence.  Whilst hospitals in the North West have achieved this accreditation, the School was the first higher education institution to be recognised in this way. The simulation resources include a number of clinical areas, replica hospital wards, and a fully fitted small apartment. The equipment includes state of the art mannequins that students can use to practice everything from complex clinical procedures to assisting a mum to give birth. Look here for a taster.

I was really pleased that the hard work Amanda and her colleague's had put in to creating the gold standard in simulation education was recognised. As I have said many times in these blogs, I am privileged to work in a School that has so many creative, enthusiastic, innovative and committed colleagues. Last week Tony and his team of researchers secured a £117000 research grant; Elaine (G) sorted out the arrangements for our July Graduation ceremonies; Elaine (B) further developed our SWAN submission; Imelda once again successfully used digital-media to facilitate her mentor sessions, and PA Jennie successfully got me to where I needed to be with the right papers and at the right time.

Another example of the commitment colleagues make to not just our work but the values underpinning our ambitions came from Sarah and her Social Work colleagues; Michaela, Donna, Kate, Dan and Ian last week. Their contribution was nothing to do with teaching or research, marking or practice development. Their's was a different type of contribution. Last Tuesday was World Social Work Day 2015. This year the theme was ‘promoting the dignity and worth of people’.  Sarah and team organised a food collection, tombola, and cake sale to celebrate on the day. They raised £156.11 for their 2 charities Afruca and Mind.

Whilst at the same time, Caroline and others recorded good wishes for World Social Work Day to add to those collected and shared by the International Federation of Social Workers. This year there were messages from 33 different countries. Have a look at what social work lookslike in different parts of the world. It was also St Patrick’s day last Tuesday. So when I went to purchase my cakes, I slipped my green clogs on so I could celebrate St Patrick Day as well as the work of my colleagues.

In fact my green clogs came in useful last week as I was privileged to deliver the final lecture to the Class of 2015 nursing students. They had their Ball last week and didn't they look good! And tomorrow I will welcome the next 300 nursing students starting their studies with us. I sometimes think I have the best job in the world – for example, meeting the new students as they start the journey of fulfilling their ambitions and then having the opportunity to wish them well as they leave us is for many students just a staging post. Many will come back to continue their studies. Hopefully they are going to be contributing to health and social cares services for at least the next 20 years.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Celebrating Alzbeta Hanzlikova’s Passion for Nursing, a Gold Medal, and the Shape of Caring

Just 5 hours ago I was at Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Michael O’Leary, Ryanair's Chief Executive, had once again delivered its passengers and its advertising promise of getting his no frills flights back on time.  His no frills airline really does deliver what it says on the can and you really do get what you pay for. I was flying Ryanair as it was the only airline able to get me from the North West to Bratislava in Slovakia on Thursday and back again on Saturday for less than the cost of a small car.

I was travelling to the Jessenius Faculty of Medicine, the medical teaching and research arm of the Comenius University located in Martin in Slovakia. This is one of the most prestigious university’s in the region and leads the way in terms of medical and health research. Martin is a 3 hour express train journey from Bratislava, and connections required taxi journeys through cities at rush hours, so much of last Thursday and yesterday was spent travelling. Why, you might be asking did I travel all that way for just one day? Well I was there to be part of the memorial conference that celebrated the life and work of Alzbeta Hanzlikova. Alzbeta died in late 2012. Her life’s work was in promoting the profession of nursing and she was passionate about ensuring the education of nurses was evidence based, and scientific in orientation.  

I first met Alzbeta back in 1995 when I accompanied my then Head of School to present a paper to what was then a fledgling international nurse education conference. She was an inspirational lady, who really had a 'can do' approach to life. She started to learn English when she was aged 50 as she realised that English was the ‘official language of science’ and she needed to get her research papers published in English language journals. The conference acknowledged her impact on nurse education, and not just in Slovakia but much further afield. She championed the advancement that research could bring and tirelessly worked at enabling nurses to gain their PhD.

The last official act of the day was the unveiling of a memorial plaque in the entrance hall of the School of Nursing. I am not sure what Alzbeta would have thought about this very public recognition of her life and work as she was a very modest person. My feeling was that it was a very appropriate, somewhat affectionate but well deserved sign of how much her work meant to so many people.  

I have supported the conference ever since 1995 and have attended each conference, being pleased to present my work and help others with getting their work published and shared.  I have been part of the scientific committee for a number of years now. What I didn't know until last Friday was that back in 1995, nobody in Slovakia had seen a man wearing clogs, and apparently my clogs were a regular topic of conversation each time I attended the conference. Even last Friday they once more got a mention, possibly because they were the bright red ones!

I don’t speak much Slovak, and I am usually helped by a translator/interpreter. However I was surprised to see my name appear in a presentation with many others whose work was being recognised by the award of a Gold Medal of Merit. I was duly presented with my medal for my contribution to university education for nurses in Slovakia. I was both immensely proud and humbled in equal manner. The last activity of the day was a dinner (at which all of Alzbeta's family attended). Vegetarian food doesn't really exist in Slovakia, but the wine flowed as did the conversation and stories told.

The first paper I co-presented at the 1995 conference was based upon an analysis of changes to nurse education in the UK and many of the papers I've presented since have touched upon further changes to nurse education and their impact upon service development or provision. Interestingly for me, just as I started my journey last week, the Raising the Bar: the Shape of Caring Review report was published. Chaired by Lord Willis, and commissioned jointly by Health Education England and the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the report makes 34 recommendations for changes to the future education of nurses and care assistants in the UK.

Having lots of time on planes and trains over the last few days I have read the report and commentary – read here. It’s worth reading the report in full. It’s balanced in its approach to recommending what needs to change and why, but still open to solutions that need more work in their development for implementation. The focus of the report is one that Alzbeta would recognise and probably agree with: ensuring pre-registration education equips the nurses of the future with a wider skill set; the need for on-going and life-long education; and the clear recognition of the association between high quality education, research and patient care. 

The reports title also resonated with me, and particularly today, which in the UK is Mother's Day. For many people the shape of caring is personified in the relationship between Mother and their children. Later on today, we will have four generations of family in the house celebrating just such relationships, and instead of using Ryanair, I will draw upon the ‘magic’ of digital communication to share and include others members of my family living across the globe in the celebration. And Mum, if there was a Gold Medal for Mothers, you would get one!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Eating Out Again and Again; Is Butternut Squash the Rocket Fuel for Changing the World?

Last Monday night I was back down to Damsons at Media City UK. It was the second time in 4 days I was there to eat dinner. The company and waiting on staff were different, but unfortunately the menu remained the same. There is only so much veloute of roast celeriac and black sticks blue beignet a man can eat, and while a butternut squash risotto is OK once in a life time, even with wild mushrooms and sage and hazelnut butter twice in 4 days is just too much.

I was there this time to meet with my fellow Heads of School prior to a strategic leadership away event that was scheduled to start on the evening of the following day. The meeting went well. It was a rare chance to take time out from the everyday demands and future think what our University might look like in 5 or 10 years. It was an interesting discussion that took us on a journey from doing nothing and staying the same, to  well, world domination!

The following morning I was at the Macron Stadium in Bolton to take part in the Health Education North West’s Stakeholder Forum. These events are opportunities designed to bring together health care educators with health service providers and commissioners of both services and education. They are important events. The Council of Deans for Health last week published their hard hitting brief: Beyond Crisis – making the most of health higher education and research. In this brief they note that across the UK, staff shortages are putting health and social care services under pressure, with England currently facing one of its most profound and sustained workforce crisis in decades. The CoDH note that in the 12 month to September 2014, the NHS recruited just short of 6000 overseas nurses to fill gaps in the current NHS workforce. The shortages of paramedics and prosthetists is now so severe that both professions have been placed on the UK’s Shortage Occupation List.

The CoDH acknowledge that the causes of the current NHS staffing crisis are complex. However, it is the difficulties in effective workforce planning that remain the most important issue. For example, between 2008/9 and 2012/13 commissions for occupational therapy were cut by 12%; adult nursing places were cut by 18%; and mental health places by 13%. According to UCAS demand for places on these professional programmes is among the highest of all University courses, with 9 applications per place for nursing compared to 5 for law for example.

So the Health Education North West event was important in sharing how they intended to commission universities to meet their workforce plans. There were some interesting headlines. Unfortunately, the indicative financial allocations for 2015/16 reflect a 0.5% reduction in funding (£30m nationally, around £4m for the North West). They are charged with reducing their running costs by 20% whist at the same time expanding the GP workforce force; increase commissions for Nursing; Asst and Advanced Practitioners; consider new professions such as Physician Associates;and find extra resources for continuing professional development programmes.

I was due to eat lunch there. As the morning broke up and I went to the toilet, out of one of the cubicles came a man dressed in the whites of a chef’s outfit. Without washing his hands, he scurried out of the door and as I followed, he went in to the kitchen. Shortly afterwards the food started arriving on the buffet table. I gave lunch a miss. Unfortunately, that evenings dinner at the University Executive meeting was reminiscent of those at Damsons; tomato soup with a balsamic glaze (a poor man’s veloute) and once again a butternut squash and pine nut risotto!

The evening was a good one, and there was plenty of opportunity to catch up with each other. The following day we worked at developing a shared vision of what our University might look like; perhaps might be doing; how and with whom it might working with over the next 5- 10 years. It was one of the best 'away days' I have been on in a long time. The vision we developed will now be taken out to the wider university community to share and refine.

After the day I drove up to the House in Scotland to start a long weekend. Friday I ate in the Anchor Hotel, a refreshing vegetable red Thai curry, and there wasn't a butternut squash in sight. Last night dinner was at home, shared with friends and Jos and Dani from Henpower. I was really pleased to see them again, we met last summer in an absolutely serendipitous manner. Henpower helps older people in care settings to overcome loneliness, depression, to live more fully with dementia and does so by offering fun and stimulating activities for individuals, their families and other independent living older people. These activities are all hen related, either keeping hens or enjoying the company of hens as they visit residential homes, schools and other community venues – see here

We had a lovely evening catching up and exchanging stories of hen inspired and hen powered approaches to developing integrated health and social care and the promotion of health and well-being. They are making a film of those where hens have a role to play in their life. Part of the evening was spent contributing to the film, which like my experience last week at the BBC, I really enjoyed. Likewise, my own well-being was significantly enhanced by being able prepare and cook from first principles, penne pasta served with vegetarian meat balls in a rich herb infused tomato sauce. It was a satisfying and delicious way to end a very busy week.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Finding myself lying underneath Madonna, but actually it was Annabel who made it such a Perfect Day

By the time I became a teenager Pop Art had almost been and gone.  I was living in London at the time and by the late sixties, the works of the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Billy Apple, and of course Andy Warhol were instantly recognisable, had achieved cult status, and grown exponentially in value. Pop Art and Surrealism remain my two 2 great art favourites. By the time I was 17 years of age I was taking a Walk on the Wild Side with the likes of radical rock and roll musician Lou Reed, and Lou Reed's mentor was of course, Andy Warhol.

I mention this as Andy Warhol was credited with the expression '15 minutes of fame' – well it's reported that what he actually said was, 'in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes'. I enjoyed my 15 minutes of fame last week! Early Wednesday morning saw me at the BBC studios at Media City Salford. I was there to be interviewed live on BBC Radio Manchester about the news 'leaked' late on Tuesday night by some rather over eager local councillors that the Great Manchester health and social care budget was to be brought together as part of so called 'Devo Manc' – and the creation of a Northern Powerhouse, and the regional, political and economic devolution of the North West from Whitehall’s control and influence.

It was proposed that the budgets currently being held by 10 Local Authorities and 12 NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups were brought together under the control of a new body responsible for nearly £6 billion worth of funding which will be used to provide integrated health and social care for the 2.7 million population of Great Manchester. This new body would be formed from NHS England, NHS Providers, Local Authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups. Fears were being expressed about this being the start of the breakup of the UK NHS, and there were reported anxieties over whether locally elected counsellors were capable of making the right decisions. However, I was delighted with what I considered to be a ground breaking decision.

Being interviewed live on the radio was a new experience, but it went well.  It was strange to hear the recording being played again an hour later and then again throughout the day. But that was just the start of my 15 minutes of fame. Soon after finishing the recording my mobile started ringing with researchers, producers and so on all wanting to record my thoughts and comments for various programmes – the BBC didn't seem to be very joined up in the communication stakes, although my mobile number seemed to be freely available. Despite much filming and recording during the day, at the end of the day I only had 2 TV appearances.

After spending 20 minutes being filmed on a very windy Media City piazza BBC North West Tonight (NWT) used just 35 seconds of the recording in a 4.28 minute long report in their 18.30, and 22.30 shows. NWT has a nightly audience of over 1.5 million viewers. Radio 4 World at One (the most prestigious radio shows to get onto apparently) dropped my interview 5 minutes before going live in favour it seems of speaking to someone called Andy Burnham, (I'm told he is a Labour MP). I guess all is fair in love, war and radio politics.

However, I did get to be interviewed on the BBC News channel. This was a live interview so slightly more anxiety provoking. This time there was a longer on screen presence (all of 3.17 minutes). The programme enjoys a much larger viewing figure. Last Wednesday it was 3.8 million viewers! These were very unexpected opportunities to share my thoughts about the really good work that has been going on in the North West to bring the most effective integrated health and social care services to the whole population.  It was a real privilege as well, and if I am going to be absolutely honest, I thought it was a great buzz too.

I got up the following morning to find that the previous evening someone called Madonna had fallen off the stage or something during her Brit Awards performance.   I and the ‘Devo Manc’ story were beginning to look like old news. Momentarily I was sad realising that just 24 hours after my 15 minutes of fame I was lying under Madonna on the public interest scale. I was however buoyed up by the memory of catching a glimpse of Annabel Tiffin the day before. 

Annabel is the main presenter and producer for NWT. When I was first asked to appear on NWT to discuss the ‘Devo Manc’ story it was to do a live interview. So I was quite excited by the prospect it might be Annabel I was sharing the red sofa with. In my mind (and I am sure many others) Annabel occupies a place that perhaps other thinking men in the past might have seen filled by the likes of Joan Bakewell, Felicity Kendal, Nigella Lawson, Joanna Lumley, Carol Vorderman and Helen Mirren.  Alas it wasn't to be. The live interview was replaced by a recorded interview. On the day, as I waited on Floor 2 of the Quay House, Annabel did walk past me, but by the time I realised and jumped up to say hello, she was gone, and that one glimpse was all I got. However, all in all, as Lou Reed might have said, last Wednesday was such a Perfect Day!