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.