Sunday, 27 December 2015

Three little boys travelling to infinity and beyond!

Boxing Day has never been a particularly good day for me when it comes to travelling up to the House in Scotland. I have driven in icy conditions with cars slipping and sliding off the road in front of me, and on one occasion, due to traffic congestion, it took nearly 5 hours to do a journey that should take half that time. Yesterday was no exception. The weather was atrocious. Early morning torrential rain meant that I was soaked just taking Cello out for his early morning walk. By the time the car was loaded I was soaked for the second time. The motorway was awash with water, and the journey was a difficult one. It was so unlike Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve was blue skies, the kind of skies that seductively make you want be outside, to walk to skip and just enjoy being in the fresh air. The fact it was the end of a December was a special bonus. Part way through the day I realised that I didn't have any fresh orange in the fridge. Orange juice, that is, to make a Christmas Day morning Bucks Fizz. I had 2 boys aged 4 years and 18 months old, both in need of some exercise. As we had been cooped up inside because of the rain, which had finally stopped, I thought it might be a good idea to get out for a walk. So with my youngest daughters warnings of ‘keeping the boys clean’ ringing in my ears, off we set.

Rather than walk to the local supermarket, a good 20 mins brisk walk away, I thought we would walk up the road to the local corner shop, a mere couple of hundred yards away. Now I don’t know what it is about small boys, dressed in their best ‘bib and tucker’ and puddles, but both Jack and Harry seemed magnetically attracted to every puddle along the way. We had only been going for a few minutes when Harry resembled the Dr Foster of the children’s rhyme, sitting in a puddle right up to his middle.

Now the one good thing about being a grandparent is that you never really get into serious trouble as far as the grandchildren are concerned. Whatever happens it all eventually comes down to the slightly exasperated exclamation of ‘Granddad!’ And so it was on Christmas Eve, when the 3 of us got back to the house, orange juice safely in hand but looking rather wet and dishevelled. There was a slightly forced smile, a cry of  ‘Grandad!’ as the boys were whisked away to be dried off and changed. 

It was ironic really. In the last few weeks, here in the North of England, it’s been, as Samuel Coleridge wrote in his epic poem of the Ancient Mariner ‘water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink’. The journey up to the House in Scotland was punctuated by news reports of how folks Lancashire were being affected by the non-stop torrential rain. Floods were wide spread, and as I sped up the motorway towards Scotland the evidence was plain to see. 

My heart went out to all the people whose lives would be impacted by the rain and floods, as it did to all those people where water is not freely accessible on a daily basis. It was a humbling couple of days. The contrast of the boys splashing in a carefree way through puddles, me turning a tap and enjoying a piping hot shower, and later, pouring a little water into my evening whiskey, with those without water or those experiencing too much water, was stark. 

The next time I write my blog will be 2016 – and I'm hoping next year, whatever the weather brings, will see me working for a fairer more less unjust world. This is me signing off for 2015 – and wishing you and yours well for the next 12 months, and to infinity and beyond! 

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Time for today’s prize winners, but thinking about tomorrow's winners too

One of the things I really enjoyed last week was being part of our School Prize Winners Celebration. Friday morning saw nearly 90 people assemble to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of students from across the School’s range of programmes. All students who graduate from the University have achieved something special, and something to be proud of. This was a group of students, who for a variety of reasons were ‘best in their class’. It was wonderful to see both my colleagues, the students, and their families shared pride and enjoyment in celebrating their success.

In introducing the event I talked about the wider successes the School has enjoyed over the past year. Our research income, the awards students and colleagues had been given for their contribution to services and/or the professions. I also talked about the changing world many of our graduates will now find themselves in. For example, colleagues from the School make a major contribution to the work of our Institute of Dementia, working at developing news ways to help people to live well with dementia. The nature of health and social care services is changing in terms of how, where and by whom they are provided. Preparing our students to shine in such a turbulent environment is something my colleagues are very, very good at doing.

Many of my colleagues will be familiar with the ‘Devo Manc’ and ‘Northern Powerhouse’ devolution initiatives here in Greater Manchester. But like me, I guess many will have been surprised at the announcement made last week at the Great Ormond Street Hospital, of a devolution deal for London. In Manchester the proposition is to work towards a £6bn budget for the provision of integrated health and social care across the region. Plans for London also look to integrate primary and secondary care, but will do so through the establishment of 5 pilots across the capital. Watch this space…

Change is definitely in the air, and strangely some of these changes have a rather familiar feel to them. Last week I spent some time finishing off our School Operational Plan for 2016/17. One of the initiatives we are planning for September is the development of an Associate Nurse programme. Amazingly, before the ink had barely dried on the page, up steps Health Minister Ben Gummer to announce the introduction of a new nursing associate role. The ambition is that 1000 nurse associates will start their training in 2016.

Was I spitting feathers at this apparent hijacking of my ideas? – Not at all. I have been developing this idea for a while and wrote about the need to develop the Associate Nurse role in one of my blog posts back in September. I was also privileged to take part in a thought leadership round table event in October with colleagues from around the 4 countries of the UK, the NMC and with Lord Willis. I was able to share my thinking over the development of Nurse Associate role. Already there is much debate as to whether we are diluting the role and achievements of our graduate nurses, and are we returning to the two tier system of Enrolled and Registered Nurses. I refute both contentions and absolutely see this role as a new, necessary and important new entrant to the health and social care workforce. However, as I noted in regard to the plans for London devolution, we will have to watch this space. 

This is my last blog posting before Christmas 2015. Whatever your plans might entail, I hope all readers of this blog get to spend a peaceful and joyous time with their families, friends, colleagues and those you want to with. 

Best wishes for a happy and merry Christmas to you all. 

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Futures, Past and Present: the Healthy University and Communities of Care

Two hours ago I landed in Dubai. Tomorrow is my last Board Meeting of the year at the Abu Dhabi Police project. It has been a long year, full of change and challenge. But as the year draws to a close, it’s good to know that the 'train the trainer' stage of the project has almost reached its successful conclusion. I am confident that we have developed a partnership that will see the ambitions of the Abu Dhabi Police in establishing a future world class juvenile justice services being delivered.

And for one brief moment last week, I took the entire VC Executive Team and University Management Team through a possible future scenario which saw the University of Salford becoming completely focused upon Health. In my imaginary world, every programme we ran was health orientated; we operated a healthy campus where good food was available at a reasonable cost; where smoking was banned and where lifts were only to be used by those with mobility issues. This imagined future occurred as part of a workshop aimed at exploring possible futures for our university following the recent comprehensive spending review.

Whilst it might have been a humorous interlude in an otherwise frustrating workshop, for me at least, it was a fleeting glimpse into a possible future world that I probably won’t see. More prosaically, last week, my world was also grounded in a reality that was difficult to ignore. Last Monday I attended the funeral of my next-door neighbour in Scotland. Kevin had died the previous week having lived with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) for the past year. Whichever way you look at it, MND is a vicious and cruel disease. Kevin was a doctor, specialising in micro-biology. He worked at the same health care service as my eldest daughter. He was a brilliant doctor and knew absolutely what a diagnosis of MND would entail. His courage in dealing with his disease was both inspirational and humbling. My thoughts are with Kevin’s wife and daughter as they work their way through this sad time and their loss.

5 people a day die from MND. This cold statistic of course masks the huge distress families living with MND can experience, and experience from diagnosis to death. Death featured in other ways last week. I was surprised to read a report last week, published by the Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK (MBRRACE-UK), a research unit at Oxford University. Their report suggested that suicide is among the leading causes of death for pregnant women or women who have recently given birth.

Many of the women involved had pre-existing conditions of health concerns prior to their pregnancy, but conditions they were not asked about, and often the women and their families downplayed their problems. BRRACE report recommended that health care services need to create a safe space for women to discuss these issues. This was a theme similar to one I talked about last Thursday when I was interviewed on Quay TV. The brief interview was focused on young people who use self-harming behaviour and what their families can do to help them. If you are in this situation, then I recommend this very helpful and useful guide to living with someone who is self-harming - and many thanks to my colleague Gaynor for bringing it to my attention – the power of Twitter strikes again. 

And finally, audit also played a different role in my world last week. On Wednesday I was interviewed by members of the inspection team from the Care Quality Commission. I am Chair of the Quality and Safety Committee a sub-committee of the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS FT Trust Board. It was an intense and interesting experience. It will be some time before the outcome of the inspection is known in detail, but the initial feedback was very positive – a great credit to all those involved in providing services and the community of care that is WWL.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Winter Graduation 2015: Not quite a New York stage, but a good show anyway

It was 1994 when I first went to New York. W and I were going there for a romantic Valentine’s Day celebration. It was a trip that left me with some great memories. I remember it being a warm Spring, and it was possible to eat ice cream in Central Park. The sunshine made sightseeing more enjoyable. One of the many things I had on my sightseeing ‘bucket list’ was visiting the Statue of Liberty. Having flown around it in a helicopter I had found out it was possible to go inside the statue and climb the 354 steps to the top and view New York through a window set in the crown.

These days tourists visiting the crown do so via a central stair-well constructed and opened to the public in 2009. However, back in 1994 tourists climbed up the inside using one way stairs which wound their way around the inside. I recall being behind someone who became increasingly claustrophobic and wanting to go back the way she had come – an impossible task. Once the small platform in the crown was reached it was only possible to stand and look at the view through an incredibly scratched and dirty window for just a few seconds, before you were hurried on to start your descent.  

Despite returning to New York on many occasions since then, I have never revisited the Statue of Liberty after that first visit. Its possible that these days the experience is much better, but for me, as one of my ‘bucket list’ experiences, it wasn't a good one! It was the triumph of experience over expectation. 

I’m not sure why this particular New York memory came to mind other than last week I found our Winter Graduation ceremonies rather more a triumph of hope over my experience. The University re-introduced a Winter Graduation last year after only having a Summer Graduation for a large number of years. I wasn't a fan of the idea, but of course once the decision was taken, I was more than happy to do my bit in making it a celebration. However as hard as I try, it’s difficult not compare the 2 Graduation ceremonies.

The Summer Graduation is held at the contemporary Lowry Theatre located at Salford Quays, next door to Media City. This is a grand venue and one set up and well used to facilitating such an event. In contrast, Maxwell Hall (located on the main campus site and built in 1960) is well past is former glory. In the mid 1980s it was used as a concert venue for groups such as the Smiths, the Fall, Icicle Works and New Order. The Maxwell Hall stage is tiny in comparison to the one at Lowry which often accommodates 90+ of my colleagues at each Summer graduation ceremony, and most years we have at least 2 ceremonies.

The attendance of my colleagues at each ceremony is important for many different reasons. They will have worked with the students for 2 or 3 years, offering them opportunities to learn and grow. I think that being able to share and celebrate each student’s success is both a form of closure and a symbolic act of acknowledgment in witnessing what might be called a rite of passage from ‘graduand to graduate’. Of course my academic colleagues are only part of the celebration. Parents, husband, wives, partners, children and friends have their part to play as well in creating the atmosphere of a special occasion. Did this happen last Tuesday? I hope so. 

Our School took part in the first ceremony, but it was only a brief encounter. Ceremony 2 was all ours. We processed in all our fine robes, to triumphal music. Maxwell Hall was literally full to the brim. Our Chancellor, Jackie Kay warmed the congregation up with her humorous stories and sheer joyful presence. As the students were presented for their various awards there were whoops, cheers, and much laughter and clapping. I even got through the names without too much trouble.  Nobody fell off the stage or tripped up or down the stairs. Everyone who should have been there was there, well with the exception of many of my colleagues who couldn't  get a seat on the stage that is.  So I am not sure why, after the ceremonies I was left feeling like I did on that first visit to the Statue of Liberty.

Maybe I am just slowly turning into a grumpy old man (W might say not so slowly) – or maybe it’s because my ‘pleasure’ gene is starting to fade. The pleasure gene, often referred to a Taq1A plays a role in processing dopamine, which is the hormone in the brain associated with pleasure and reward. It is a hormone that is released when people smoke. In research undertaken in Zhejiang University, China and published last week, it was reported that people (smokers) will have with slight variations of this gene. These variations will either make it easy to give up smoking or next to impossible to do so. So once started, they are likely to remain as lifelong smokers, with all that might entail. I gave up smoking a long time ago, so its probably just that I am turning into a grumpy old man. Still, even if this is the case, I still look forward to going back to New York at some stage and to attending the next graduation ceremony, which fortunately for me, will be in the Summer and at the Lowry!