Sunday, 28 June 2015

Long Roads, Long Robes, Long in the Tooth Drivers, and We Are the Champions!

Last week's blog came directly from my hotel bed in Abu Dhabi. This one comes from my bed in the House in Scotland. There's high winds and rain this morning, but I am glad to be here and able to enjoy a few days of relaxation. In Abu Dhabi, the unremitting heat, and the lack of readily available food and drink due to the restaurants and bars being closed during the daylight hours, was a challenge. However the celebratory breaking of the Ramadan fast by the iftar feast was wonderful. Each iftar were full of good food, great company, and Vimto. I am not quite sure why Vimto featured so widely, but in the absence of anything alcoholic it seemed to me to be a reasonable alternative to camel’s milk.

It took me a day to travel to Abu Dhabi and a day to travel back. The three days in-between were filled with some very productive meetings and discussions with friends, colleagues and those working on our project out there. If it sounds like an easy three days, believe me it wasn't. Some of the meetings were tough albeit I got to where I needed to be. And simply getting to the meetings was difficult. It nearly always involved a taxi journey on the roads, and I don’t know who designed the road system there but on many occasions a short journey meant travelling in circuitous routes that would try the patience of a saint. It was very frustrating to pass where you wanted to be on the opposite of the 6 lane road, but then have to spend 15 minutes travelling away from the venue only to have to double back on one’s self to get there.

The roads in Abu Dhabi can be daunting and dangerous places. I certainly wouldn't like to drive on them. The reverse appears true for some people in the UK. Last week at the British Medical Associations Representatives conference, Derbyshire GP, Peter Holden called for the rules on older people driving to be reviewed. The current rules and guidance are felt to no longer be fit for purpose. Whilst Dr Holden was particularly looking at those people living with early stages of dementia, the notion of an older generation driving what in the wrong hands might be considered a lethal weapon, was of concern.  In the UK, anyone over the age of 70 has to self-declare that they are fit to drive, and do so every 3 years thereafter.

I must admit feeling slightly envious of the Abu Dhabi men who were dressed in their long flowing thawbs (robes). I didn't have time to visit the local souk to purchase a thawb for myself (black rather than white though). Next time maybe. And I read (with interest) about St Catherine’s College (Cambridge) which was founded in 1473, and which for over 500 years has enforced a strict dress code is to allow men to wear skirts and women to wear trousers at formal dinners and the like. A reasonable decision I thought, and for all my School Management Team who might be moved to do so, absolutely feel free to wear whatever you feel most comfortable wearing at our next management team meeting.

According to the latest research however, men and woman should refrain from wearing tight jeans. The so called 'skinny jeans' are seen to be a health hazard. The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry published their research which showed that squatting in skinny jeans can damage muscles and nerve fibres in the legs. You have been warned. 

For me the end of the week was a very humorous one. Last night was the inaugural Village Boules Championship. We were all asked to arrive at the Village Hall dressed in French attire. Now the first time I have ever played boules was last Friday evening with neighbours in their back garden. I really enjoyed it, so much so that yesterday I went an purchased a set of boules for myself. Photos of the practise session leaked out onto Facebook and there were cries of cheating - as if finely honed world class athletics never practise at all...

...I was teamed up with John, a close by neighbour, and someone who was at the Friday evening practise session. We won the first 3 games convincingly and by game 5 we were invincible. Some 2 hours after starting and beating all comers, it was great to be crowned winners of the competition. John and I retired to the village hall and celebrated in great style with some fine French Bordeaux - and there wasn't a single glass of Vimto in sight!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

No need to feel down - Ramadan Kareem!

Friday I awoke feeling really fed up. It was with some reluctance that I got out of bed and started a day that would see me once more in Abu Dhabi at the end of it. The week had already been a long one, and the thought of spending 7 hours in a plane a long weekend in a very hot city, and to be here at what is the start of Ramadan. Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims. All adult Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink, tobacco and certain other pleasurable pursuits between sunrise and sunset. During Ramadan fasting is compulsory for adult Muslims and this takes place during the hours of daylight. Here in Abu Dhabi, it is an offence to eat, drink or smoke in the sight of a fasting Muslim. 

At sunset the fast is broken with the Iftar feast, and I am going to my first one this evening. Whilst there is no alcohol served at the feasts they are said to be a time of great celebration and happiness. I am looking forward to the event. And last week, right at the start of Ramadan, one of my PhD students successfully defended his thesis at his viva, and subject to some corrections, will now become the third nurse in Kuwait to have a PhD. I was very proud to have been part of his journey and I am sure he had much to celebrate at his family Iftar that night.

One of the aspects of Ramadan is to take time to reflect about those less fortunate than oneself, and people are encouraged to think about ‘sadaqah’ (or voluntary charity) in providing for those poor, ill or otherwise find themselves in difficulty. Internationally, one of the reasons that individuals can find themselves without employment, ill or struggling with everyday life is depression. The World Health Organisation (WHO) note that depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.

Here in the United Arab Emirates, 5% of the population are known to live with clinical depression, with many more dealing with mental health problems. Worldwide, only 25% with depression receive treatment, and then this is mostly antidepressant medication. However, even then, many of the current antidepressants available can cause significant side effects, such as weight gain, drowsiness, sexual dysfunction and loss of sexual desire, fatigue, blurred vision and insomnia. The medication is not always successful between 30 – 50 % may not gain any therapeutic benefit.

Many antidepressants work by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain (although how this happens isn’t entirely clear). No new antidepressants have been developed for several decades, so it was interesting to read of the work of researchers at the University of Bath who have reported encouraging results from combing medication used in pain relief with medications used in treating drug addiction. This combination, has been shown to produce antidepressant effects (well in mice at least) without the side effects. Publishing their results in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, they acknowledge that while these results are promising, there is some way to go before the combination is available for use, but the time it will take is likely to be much, much shorter and cheaper than the development processes used in bring new drugs to the market. 

Being fleet of foot was the subject of this year’s PA Consulting Report on UK Universities. This year’s report essentially looked at how the UK university sector compared to the rest of the world in terms of flexibility, attractiveness and economic viability. The report identified 7 areas that universities needed to consider in order to be in the running for survival: curriculum reforms and new pedagogies; student driven flexible study modes; integration of learning with working practice; mobility and transferability between providers; uses of technology to transform learning experiences; use of student data analytic's for personalised services; unbundling of educational service provision. I am glad to say that as a School we are already  actively working on 6 of these areas. 

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Working to the sound of my favourite tune - (What's the story) Morning Glory

In 1969 the Rolling Stones released what I think was one of the best albums ever – Let it Bleed – others thought so too, as on its release it reached number 3 in the US and No1 in the UK temporarily  knocking the Beatles Abbey Road off the top spot.  I was reminded of this fact on Friday when travelling back on the excellent Emirates flight from Duabi to Manchester. Their essential albums collection contains my top 10 albums of all time – as well as Let it Bleed, there was the Joshua Tree; Brother in Arms; Automatic for the People; (What’s the Story) Morning Glory; Imagine; Harvest; Transformer; Dark Side of the Moon; and Tubular Bells. In the 7 hour flight home, they all got played.

I actually flew in to Duabi on my way to Abu Dhabi. I was there to attend a major review of our project with the Abu Dhabi Police. This is a project aimed at developing a 'best in class' approach to juvenile justice provision. The project is about half way through and this was an opportunity to take stock and see if anything needed reviewing or changing. It was a day-long meeting, held in the wonderful surroundings of the Fairmount Hotel, The meeting room provided a fantastic view of the Grand Mosque. The room was laid out in a classical and slightly intimidating  ‘us and them’ format, with two long tables placed opposite each other with myself and our team on one side and the Abu Dhabi Police and their Strategic Advisor's on the other.

The early half of the meeting wasn't easy – we hadn't always managed to deliver what we had set out to achieve - but in a complex project such as the Al Mafraq one, the unpredictability of the different factors, fractions and aspirations will always conspire to inhibit the rate of progress. However, that said, at the halfway point of the project there was much to celebrate. We have a great team assembled and they are delivering high quality products and materials, We have a well-constructed training programme underpinned by evidence based teaching materials ready to implement in August and we have a shared and strong desire to succeed with what is an ambitious project.

Symbolically, this shared sense of our achievements to date was demonstrated when after lunch, the Abu Dhabi Police Brigadier in Charge, and Chair of the Steering Committee, chose to sit on our side of the conference table. Later on, back at the hotel, I was having a quiet drink with a couple of colleagues who work in our International Hub in the city when I was in an instant transported back to Manchester by the arrival of one of my friends from Bolton. He now lives out there, and he was the last person I expected to bump into. We had a quick drink and parted company, but his arrival reminded me of the earlier part of my week, where I had a different kind of meeting, and one that was also focused on bringing about complex changes.

It was a meeting I had with Ian Williamson, the new Chief Executive Officer designate for Devo Manc (DM) or Greater Manchester Health and Care Devolution as the formal title is known. It was a good meeting. Devo Manc is part of the Northern Powerhouse ambition of the current government and will see health and social care budgets, those for transport and housing and employment brought together under the control of what will become the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – it is a massively exciting opportunity to change who holds the power to determine the health and wellbeing for the population of the Greater Manchester. The timetable is tight and the complexity in moving from where things are now to where they could be is as challenging as our shared ambition for the project in Abu Dhabi, albeit the scale of both projects is very different.

And next week looks to be a challenging one back in the School.  Our very own local changes are beginning to be rolled out, and the pace of work is steadily increasing as we move towards our Summer graduation ceremonies in July. Thankfully I had a wonderfully relaxing day yesterday, a day shared with friends and family, and today is going to be just as good – a brief respite before the working week starts again. Next week’s blog will come from Abu Dhabi, as on Friday I fly out again for another series of meetings. I hope my body clock is back to normal by then – As Noel Gallagher might have sung in one of the songs from my Top 10 Album list: 'today's the day, (its) going to be another sunny afternoon, and I’m working to the sound of my favourite tune, just need a little time rest my mind, need a little time to wake up!' 

Sunday, 7 June 2015


My meetings last week started at 05.00 with a virtual one with colleagues in Abu Dhabi on Monday morning. Then it was a quick drive to the station, travel down to London for a meeting with colleagues working on the Transforming Community and Primary Care Nursing project. Traveling back to Manchester allowed 2 hours of virtual office catch up before spending the afternoon at a 'Vision Think Tank' workshop. Monday’s early evening meeting was conducted over a meal at the Lime Bar at Media City, before arriving back at home 15 hours after leaving it that morning.

And so the week went on. 4 of my PhD student’s had scheduled supervision sessions, one was a new student just starting off and one was due to sit his viva later on in the month. I attended the University Council Audit and Risk Committee where a packed agenda was got through in just under 2 hours. I met with colleagues from 2 different local provider Trusts both of whom were interested in working in partnership to increase the numbers of students undertaking our Advanced Practitioner programme, and another Trust who were interested in establishing a cohort of non-NHS pre-registration nurses at their hospital.

Wednesday was a quieter day with back to back meetings and an evening meeting with a meal at Albert’s Shed with the Greater Manchester Deans Group. Thursday was a more frenetic day, but one where I was able to spend a couple of hours in the morning at the Zion Centre, Hulme, meeting the energetic and enthusiastic Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Self Help Services (SHS), exploring how we might work more closely together. SHS is a charity that provides a range of primary mental healthcare services, and the approach adopted is one I could readily identify with. I hope this meeting will be the start of a very productive and creative relationship.

Later on that evening, I was involved in forging what I also hope will become a productive relationship. I was the Non-Executive Director member on an interviewing panel for the appointment of the next Clinical Director for Anaesthetics at Wrightinton, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust. Such is the busy workload of many consultants the interviews could only be arranged for late afternoon/early evening. There were some cracking applicants, and we were able to make a very good appointment.

It was a busy week, but as it drew to a close, I felt a bit like Stanley Ipkiss. If he were me, (and of course he isn't) he might have said in describing my week: Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssmokin! Of course he wasn’t talking about cigarettes when he says this in the film The Mask, and those of you who have read this blog over the past few years will know that I sit very much in the anti-smoking lobby. So it was great to read the report last week, published in the European Respiratory Journal that the impact of the smoking ban (introduced in England in 2007) saw a reduction of over 11000 children being admitted to hospital with chest infections. And given that China has over 300 million smokers, it was also great to hear that smoking in public has now been banned in China’s capital, Beijing. Over 1 million Chinese die from smoking related illness every year. 

In a busy week, Friday was upon me before I realised it, and it was great to get to the House in Scotland and enjoy a glorious sunset. Unfortunately the weather deteriorated overnight, and yesterday there was a 40 mph gale blowing outside. And it was unfortunate as yesterday was also Food Town Day in Castle Douglas, celebrating the Year of Food and Drink in Scotland 2015. Despite the very high winds, it was a very relaxing way to spend a day and I love supporting the local food growers, the local breweries and associated craft workers. The afternoon was spent at Threave Gardens, both observing the changed seasons and to spend my 'birthday money'. Today I'm off to see the newly hatched Osprey chicks at their nest in Threave Castle. Dad is called Black 80 and Mum, Blue KC. Its a wonderful privilege to see these magnificent birds. And whilst I'm not quite sure I have managed to get my 'work - life' balance right, so far my weekend can only be described as Ssssssssssssssssssssssmokin!