Sunday, 26 April 2015

VC’s, WC’s, and Bouncing Wee Wees!

Our previous Vice Chancellor lived in a University provided house located in the heart of Salford. The house was a beautiful 3 storey building which the VC had filled with furniture and artefacts collected from his time in South Africa. I have been there many times for meetings, meals and celebratory events. Our previous VC described the house as being 'your house' (meaning it belongs to colleagues in the University) and as 'his home' while he was VC.

I mention this as one of the few moments of calm I experienced in what was an amazingly challenging week was to celebrate the retirement of my colleague Lesley G. Last Friday we gathered together to celebrate her many contributions to the NHS and to nurse education. She was an Enrolled Nurse who became a Matron, specialised in sexual health and was someone who our students truly respected. Spookily there is a connection between Lesley and the previous VC's house.

The first time colleagues from the School were invited to the ex VC's house was to celebrate Christmas. A good crowd from the School (including Lesley) turned up on what was a very snowy evening. Lesley and her friend Ann, had unknown to me, already started to celebrate Christmas with colleagues at a Christmas lunch. It was a lunch that involved a glass or two of red wine. At the VCs house we all got to enjoy a glass of wine or two, canap├ęs and the warmth of each other’s company. The VC welcomed us all and told us that it was 'your house' and hoped we felt at home.

When it came time to leave, most colleagues were happy to get their coats and step out into the snow. Lesley (and her friend Ann) were comfortably ensconced in one of the many sumptuous sofas, and didn't really see the need to get up and go. When I tried to persuade her that it really was time to leave, she reminded me that the VC had told us all that this was 'our house', so she really didn't need to leave just yet. Of course being the consummate professional she was, we all eventually left the VC to enjoy 'his home' on his own.

And last week, I had lunch with a Baroness. It was all in a good cause of course. I was part of the University recruitment committee set up to select our new VC. Last Monday was the end of an exhaustive process of selection. It was VC Recruitment Day. The Baroness was Beverley Hughes our Chair of Council, and she had, over the past few months, very skilfully led the process of selecting our new VC. Who was appointed? - well the answer to that question is embargoed until next week. I am however, extremely pleased that we have been able to make the appointment we have. So watch this space.

Given that last week was a challenging and a very busy week, I didn't get to do much reading. I did however get to read about my favourite supermarket struggling and posting a huge loss; of a local MP who’s misgivings about 'Devolution Manchester' meant that if was elected he may well halt plans to devolve more  power to the people of Greater Manchester (I can’t comment on this notion given we are in purdah); I also learnt of the marriage of George Kirby (103 years old) and his partner of 27 years, Doreen Luckie (91), a wonderful love story; but for me, in a reading-less week, the story that made me smile the most had to be the anti-wee paint story.


Hamburg City Council is using a paint developed through nano-technology to deter late night revellers from taking a pee in public on the way home. This is a paint that simply bounces back anything sprayed at it, which might come as a surprise to anyone taking a leak against a wall. Well last week, one of the candidates for Manchester City Council announced that they wanted the Council to consider using this paint to protect the buildings and their surroundings in the city centre – as the paint cost about £500 for every 6 square metre covered, it might be better to think about installing more public toilets! And in case you are wondering, the ex VC's University house had 2 bathrooms and one separate toilet. To be frank, I don't recall anyone ever peeing into the rose beds.


Sunday, 19 April 2015

2 Brigadiers, 3 Days Travel, 4 Paracetamol and finally we get to be United in Abu Dhabi

I always travel light. For most trips I usually take nothing more than my trusty back pack. I have long ago mastered the knack of being able to pack fresh clothes, including a daily change of underwear, the necessary toiletries, laptop and the other essential items needed for brief trips into my back pack. I try not to take anything more than I need. Last week I was travelling to Abu Dhabi, and although it was a brief trip, I wanted to take some suits to wear at the meetings I was attending. So I left my back pack at home and took along a small suitcase. 

Stupidly, thinking I had more room than normal, I took a new toilet bag full of pockets, zips and space. I gleefully filled this with everything I thought I would need and packed in my suitcase ready to check it in. Out of the wardrobe came my new black leather briefcase for the laptop, iPad and business papers and off I went to the airport. I was flying with Etihad, and as the plane was late arriving into Manchester there was a long delay before passengers could board. 5 hours after getting out of bed I was still in Manchester. Eventually we took off and my attention turned to lunch. Whilst the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was chilled, so was the watercress soup – (it was insipid and unseasoned too). To top it all they ran out of cheese.

So some 8 hours after climbing out bed that morning and flying somewhere over Istanbul, the dull ache that had been growing steadily blossomed into a pounding, splitting headache. I reached for my bag for some paracetamol, only to realise it wasn't my faithful back pack, and the paracetamol was in my bag in the hold. Thankfully, whilst there was no cheese to be had, one of the cabin crew did have some paracetamol and shortly thereafter, the headache started to recede. And after a couple of glasses of Glenlivet it had gone completely.

I knew that whilst paracetamol is an effective analgesic (pain reliever) it was a fairly safe drug (although over dosing can cause liver damage and death). A new study published last week in Psychological Science by Geoffrey Durso of the Ohio State University (US) has revealed that paracetamol can also leave people feeling emotionally numb as well. The research which recorded people's responses to photos that were pleasant, neutral or very unpleasant after being given paracetamol, showed the people didn't feel the same degree of emotional response as did the people who took placebos.

The paper suggested that paracetamol might tap into the sensitivity that makes some people react differently to both positive and negative life events. I am not this was the case with me, I think it was just Etihad's poor service that was the cause. And in a week which saw reports of record numbers of GPs wishing to leave the UK, it seems that the NHS might not be getting a very good service from some of our GPs. Collectively, they issued some 22 million prescriptions last year at a cost of £3.67 per prescription) which costs the NHS over £80 million (or in run up to the election - 3200 more nurses) a year for drugs that cost as little as 19p in most supermarkets (perhaps 23p for Tesco’s Finest J ).

Abu Dhabi was its usual hot self. I’m sure it gets greener every time I go there. I was there attending the Al Mafraq Juvenile Rehabilitation Project Board meeting.  The meeting was a long one. The Brigadiers were in feisty mood and the issues we faced were challenging and difficult. As always, the Emirati hospitality was wonderful, and after many cups of very, very sweet tea, much discussion the somewhat rhetorical and transactional nature of the business of the meeting was concluded. The rather more informal 'unofficial' meeting followed and I felt real progress was being made. The project is already making a difference to the lives of the young people involved. The next stage, the production of a range of high quality and culturally sensitive learning programmes was already well under way. 

I was really pleased and a little proud as I sat with our team in the hotel grounds later on in the day. They had dealt brilliantly with the heat, the cultural issues, the work of the project and it was wonderful to spend some time with them relaxing and sharing stories late into the night. We sat outside in the hotel gardens and I have to confess I don’t know whether it was the heat, or that small glass of beer I had that led to my headache the following morning. Thankfully I had access to my paracetamol and by the time I settled myself into my seat for the flight home later that morning, the headache was already a thing of the past. Finally, for those who are interested in such things, I was told that the word Etihad (who are the main sponsors of Manchester City football club) is Arabic for United

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Four days filled with inspirational people: and living a life less ordinary

For a week that was only 4 working days long, I ended up feeling exhausted by the Friday afternoon. The Easter break seemed a long time ago. However, up until yesterday morning the weather has been absolutely gorgeous. I went down to London on Thursday to attend the Transforming Nursing for Community and Primary Care (TNCPC) Steering Group meeting. Travelling down it was clear that Spring had well and truly arrived. The sunshine was welcome, illuminating and warming. I felt very inspired. But it wasn't just the weather that inspired me. It was people this week who really inspired me.

I feel privileged to be part of the TNCPC group and being able to contribute to the development of the way nurses in the future will be able to work in providing care closer to peoples home. And it’s an illustrious group. Professor John Clarke, the coolest Director of Education and Quality Health Education England has (sorry Ged…) - he is joint Chair of the steering group, alongside Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, Director of Nursing. They were joined amongst others, by the inspirational pairing of Karen Storey, and Anne Moger (Primary Care Nurse HEWM, and Practice Nurse Advisor NHS England). And then there was the irrepressible and inspirational David Sines (former Pro Vice Chancellor at Buckinghamshire New University, and now Professor of Community Nursing).

During the meeting we also got to hear of the work being undertaken around Physician Associates – an emergent new member of the health care workforce that I have been fiercely critical of. I heard a more balanced account of what they might do. And I don’t mind admitting that my mind is now more open to this initiative than it ever has been. Which will please my colleague Umesh – Dr Umesh Prabhu is the brilliantly and absolutely inspirational Medical Director at the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Trust. WWL is the winner of 3 Health Service Journal 2014 awards including the elusive award of Provider Trust of the Year. Umesh is an advocate of the Physician Associate programme.

Umesh is also a member of the WWL Quality and Safety Committee, a committee I chair as a Non-Executive at the Trust. In fact last Wednesday was my first official meeting as Chair.  I was following the very accomplished Louise Barnes, who for many years has successfully steered WWLs work in improving the quality and safety of the care provides. Not only were they big shoes to fill, Louise’s shoes were always inspirationally elegant! Many thanks Louise for showing me a path worth treading.

And sadly last Tuesday I heard the news that Maureen Deacon had died that morning. Maureen was a mental health nurse at the same time as me, but in a different part of the UK. We worked together at Manchester Metropolitan University for 10 years. Along with my colleague Professor Eileen Fairhurst, I was Maureen’s PhD supervisor. She produced a fascinating and refreshingly challenging thesis. Her ethnomethodological approach looked at the work of mental health nurses working in an acute setting. Her ability to make the ordinary extraordinary was brilliant.


In 2010 she moved to the University of Chester as a Professor in mental health. Her work in exploring the relationship between mental health nurses, their practice and education and how this related to mental health care was her passion. There are many of us in the mental health nursing world, academic and practice that will really miss Maureen’s intellect, her challenge, her smile, and warmth and the way she made everyone she met feel very special. She really did live a life less ordinary and was an inspirational in the way she created space for a fuller life by wasting no time on a unimportant things

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Easter and Eggs, Mental Health Stirrings, Dazzle Ships, and the Re-launch of the Kippford Queen

I have to say last week’s Radio 4 Farming Today was absolutely brilliant. In the week that has Good Friday and the Easter Weekend to look forward to, we were treated to a wonderful eggs related story every morning. I didn't know for example that in the UK we consume a staggering 32 million eggs a day. I also didn't know that goose eggs now cost £9 each or that ostrich eggs, a whopping £30 a go – the latter eggs do feed up to 25 people per egg, so maybe they are value for money. I did know that chickens are healthier more productive and happier when allowed free range with plenty of shrubs and tree cover available to them – I have been keeping my chickens like that for years.

And after many years of nothing changing very much, there is a rustling in the mental health care hedgerow. New targets around the provision of talking therapies require the NHS to provide face-to-face therapy to 75% of patients with 6 weeks and 95% of patients within 18 weeks. Although I am not a big fan of targets per se, I think this is great news as it reinforces the need to recognise that we should treat mental health care in the same way we approach the treatment of physical problems. Scandalous is the word that comes to my mind when thinking about how in the UK we approach mental and physical health.

The authoritative How Mental Health Loses Out in the NHS study (published by the London School of Economics (LSE) in 2012) revealed that for people aged 65 or less, nearly 50% of all ill health was mental ill health. However, only 26% of adults with mental illness receive care compared, for example with diabetes, where 92% of people living with this condition receive treatment and care. Despite a huge investment by the UK government, only 24% of those people with an anxiety or depressive condition are in treatment. So 6-18 weeks is still a long time to wait if someone is feeling depressed.

Possibly waiting times could be a thing of the past for many people with such mental health problems. Human connection, the basis of psychological healing, can be provided using new technology. There are many on-line enabled cognitive behavioural therapy programmes available, and these appear to provide equally good rates of recovery compared to the more traditional and physical face-to-face therapeutic encounters. With such approaches becoming much more acceptable, it should be possible to access an on therapist almost immediately following consultation with say a person’s GP.

Such new responses need to be based upon good evidence of effectiveness. It was therefore very disappointing to read last week of the disparities between funding given over to mental health care compared to that for physical conditions. Approximately just under £10 is invested per person on mental health research compared to over £1500 per person for cancer research for example. However, most funding for mental health research is spent upon underpinning research projects rather than on prevention, or the development of treatments for mental health.

On a lighter note, regular readers and attendees at School Congresses’ will know that one of my other passions (after chickens that is) is surrealism and pop art. So my mind was assailed with yet another treat last week when I was able to catch a live interview with Sir Peter Blake talking about his latest project, turning a Merseyside Ferry the Snow Drop, into a modern day Dazzle Ship. During World War One battleships were painted using the dazzle effect to try and avoid detection by the enemy as the bright and twisty designs made it harder for hostile forces to track the range and speed of our ships. Sir Peter Blake, now an inspirational 83 years old was the artist who created the iconic Sgt Peppers album cover.  

And yesterday I was involved in a re-launch of boat here at the House in Scotland. My builder friend Kevin and his [Chief] engineer friend Davey had decided to rescue a boat abandoned on the beach over two years ago. After Kevin and Davey notified the police of their intention to rescue the boat and a notice placed in the newspaper enquiring about previous owners, work began on getting it sufficiently sea worthy in order to move it off the beach. It was in a sorry state. there was no deck and its wooden hull required much patching.


The boats engine had been taken from a combine harvester and was huge, filling most of the main deck. The engine needed oily rags soaked in diesel and lit with a match to start it. There was a reasonable tide yesterday afternoon and after much shouting, a little swearing and a great deal of sweat, the boat was re-floated and chugged away to a safe inland harbour for the remainder of its renovation. As it slowly and rather majestically sailed passed me on the estuary, I was almost sure I saw Kate Winslet standing by the bow.