Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Last Goodbye from Middle Earth, well the School of Nursing, Midwifery, Social Work & Social Sciences anyway!

Like many of my working weeks, last week was a hectic one. I had a Council of Deans Health Executive meeting, scooted off to London to take part in a NMC Council seminar on future nurse education, had the first Trust Board meeting of 2016, met with the WWL Governors, and presented our School Operational Plan at the University Challenge Day. Last Friday was spent at a University Council Away Day. Friday was also my last working day as Dean of School. Next Monday I start my new role as ICZ Programme Director and Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor, something I am very excited about. My interim Dean replacement has been selected and announced (the Dean is Dead, Long Live the Dean), leaving dos were enjoyed and gifts, cards and good wishes exchanged.

I have a new office, which meant packing up my old one ready for moving. This was something that provided a chance to have a really good clear out. After packing most of my books into boxes, it was on to the filing cabinet. Now I had two filling cabinets in my old office, although over the years these had almost fallen into disuse. One had a draw full of coloured clogs, and one had a draw that contained 3 bottles of champagne, a bottle of black whisky, a bottle of white wine and an opened bottle of my favourite malt whisky, Lagavulin.  

However there were more ‘traditional’ finds in the filing cabinet. The first batch of papers I pulled out were written reports and paperwork from some of my old PhD students. I started reading these and the years rolled back. There was one email exchange from a student apologising for her lack of progress, but she was having to deal with ‘real life issues’ – it was the start of her journey of living with, and eventually dying from, liver cancer. The memory of her sitting in my office talking to me about how she was feeling and what lay ahead made me pause and reflect. Over the 9 years of being Dean I have listened to a great number of life stories from my colleagues. Very often these were about challenging events for people, relationships and marriages that had broken down, serious and potentially life shortening illnesses, or frustration and grievances over how changes were being experienced. But they weren’t all like that!

I have many, many good memories of listening to colleagues full of excitement, over an idea they wanted to run with, or the telling of a chance of a new role, promotion or job. I have felt privileged to be able to work with some very creative, motivated and committed individuals. It’s been wonderful to see so many people grow and develop, and to mature as professionals and people. I will miss the daily contact of so many positive people.

I am not so sure I will miss all the overseas travelling I have done during my time as Dean. However, I've been to places I perhaps would never seen had it not been for the job I was doing. So whilst I have been fortunate to have travelled all over the world, trying to fit the travel in as well as doing my day job has often been exhausting and sometimes not very healthy. I have been treated for 2 DVTs during the 9 years – not a good thing! I’m hoping much of my future travels will be more around the University campus rather than around the world.

Some of you might have noticed that this weeks blog looks slightly different than usual. This is a result of my ineptitude in using the programme. I was asked if I intended to continue writing a blog each week, and in thinking about this I had a go at changing the presentation style. Little did I know that it would change every posting I have ever made, and now I cant get back to my original design! I am not sure if I will continue blogging or not. It is something I have enjoyed doing and in what has often been very turbulent times, writing the blog has always felt like finding an oasis in the storm – which for me has been very refreshing. Whilst you will just have to wait until next Sunday to find out if there will be any more blogs, I would like to say thanks to all of you who have continued to read my posts each week. 

The 9 years in the School have flown past, and it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s been so long. As the Rolling Stones almost said – It’s [not always been] only Rock ‘N’ Roll, but I’ve liked it… 

...liked it? 

Yes I have! 

Sunday, 24 January 2016

In many regards, a difficult week, thanks goodness for such positive colleagues

Well it was a difficult week last week. Now you might ask, what in what some have described as the possibly cocooned world of Prof T would make life difficult. It wasn't the cold mornings that required the frost to be scraped off windscreens, or the very busy diary requiring frantic dashes across the campus (usually in the rain), or even the many desks, chairs, shelves removed from our admin office up-grades but which appeared never to have travelled any further than the corridor and serving only as some kind of pop-up obstacle course for the unwary.

The large number of requests to complete 360 degree assessments on my colleagues and peers was an irritant, particularly as I am not 100% convinced of the approach or its ability to initiate sustainable change in behaviour or attitudes.  And whilst completing these assessments (20 mins a form) ate into my time, these didn't really add to my weeks difficulties. But interestingly one of the questions asked was about the staff member’s ability to control their own emotions when dealing with others.

I have often taken this question to refer somewhat to the Rogerian idea of extending unconditional positive regard (UPR) to others. It was Carl Rogers who developed this approach, and in particular its use in person centred therapy. Practicing UPR means respecting others ads they are without judgement or evaluation. It’s a completely different from unconditional love, indeed UPR doesn't require love or even affection, it simply involves the acceptance of others, whether one likes them or not.

It’s a difficult thing to practice and I speak from trying for most of my working life. UPR shouldn't be misunderstood as being nice or pleasant with others whatever they do; and while any thoughts and feelings are okay, not all behaviours are acceptable. However, in person centred therapy, acceptance can possibly create the conditions needed for change. But I think it was a slightly different kind of emotional context that made my week difficult.

As Pink Floyd once said  'in a momentary lapse of reason' I had decided to exchange a role as being the Dean of the School with the longest name in the University with a role with the longest title in the University. My new title is: Industrial Collaboration Zones (ICZs) Programme Director and Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor. This new role leads on the University vision and the development of 4 ICZs. Each of these zones will allow students to work closely with industry (using the term in ts broadest sense), and in so doing, apply their academic learning to real world environments. For my academic colleagues each ICZ will provide a different kind of place to develop knowledge and expertise, and for enhanced research and enterprise collaboration with industry.

Now whilst I was excited over the prospect of a new challenge and the privilege of leading on this work, I wasn't looking forward to telling my colleagues in the School. I broke the news last Wednesday at our School Congress. It was one of the most difficult things I have done in the 9 years of being Dean. I found the emotionality of the moment totally overwhelming and had to leave the room rather abruptly to avoid total lack of emotional control. However judging by the wonderfully supportive message I received later that evening and the following day, my colleagues truly extended their own form of UPR. 

This is my penultimate blog as Dean. I am writing this on my return home from celebrating the family's only triplets (Sophie, Amy and Charlotte's ) 18th birthday. It was great party and wonderful to look back over their years of growth and development. And so next week I will take the opportunity to look back at my time in the School, which as events last week showed, made me feel as close to the School in a way I wouldn't have expected.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Put on your Red Shoes and Let’s Dance the blues away in 2016

We woke up last week to the news that David Bowie had died, aged 69 years. He had been living with liver cancer for over 18 months, and had kept the news secret, when a year ago he found out the condition was terminal. His contribution to music, art and culture more widely was enormous and far reaching. He will be missed. I did contemplate writing this blog using Bowie's ‘cut-up technique’ or decoupe in French, but my Father would probably complain that the blog was even more incomprehensible and impenetrable than usual.

He could be right. The cut-up technique is an interesting aleatory literary approach in which a text is cut up and then re-arranged to create a new text. The technique was said to be first used in the 1920s. Bowie used the technique to create some of his lyrics from the early 1970s onward's. You can see him describing how he used it here. Commentators have suggested that Bowie used this approach with his last album (‘Blackstar’) to obfuscate and create time to hide the truth about his health until his death, when his words coalesced into perfect sense.

Bowie had the same birthday as Elvis Presley, who also recorded a song called ‘Black Star’. It would be good to think that Bowie knew the words of the Elvis song:

Every man has a black star
A black star over his shoulder
And when he sees his black star
He knows his time, his time has come

We don’t know what caused Bowie's cancer, but liver cancer is one of the 7 cancers that can be caused by drinking too much alcohol. Others include bowel, breast and mouth and/or throat cancers. The UK government have just recently released a revised safe alcohol consumption guidelines. The biggest change on previous guidelines is that the recommended levels of safe weekly consumption are the same for men and women, 14 units per week. Rather challengingly, it’s been estimated that 30% of male drinkers regularly drink more than this new safe limit.

However, many people appear to have thought about the amount of alcohol they consume. Dry January, a month without drinking any alcohol appears to have become a great success. So much so that supermarkets are reporting an alcohol sales slump of nearly 50% over the month. Likewise, soft drinks and sparkling water have seen sales rise by nearly 40%! W decided to take part, I chose to abstain (from Dry January that is). Dry January requires participants to stop drinking on the first day of January and abstain for the entire month. Ian Hamilton (York University) cautioned that abrupt abstention from alcohol could result in serious health problems such as seizures.

My January is already proving to be very busy and it’s not over yet. So I decided I wouldn't risk being off sick and so whilst not participating fully in Dry January, I did choose to become a more responsible drinker. And I think I'm going to need my wits about me as 2016 is turning out to be full of interesting possible changes and challenges. My colleagues and I have been working hard at identifying these and developing our responses. For all those blog readers working in the School, you can come along to our congress next Wednesday afternoon when I will be presenting the outcomes of this work. For other readers, just watch this space!

Until then, as Bowie said, ‘put on your red shoes and dance the blues, lets dance…

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Dispensing innovation, education and digital futures

Last week I took part in a Leadership Safety Round at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust. I am a Non Executive Director there and the Leadership Safety Round was part of a regular series of events that allow Executive members of the Trust Board to meet with front line staff and hear their ideas, concerns and achievements. Last week’s visit was to the Medical Assessment Unit (MAU), a very busy unit that takes patients directly from GP referrals as well as through the Accident and Emergency Department. I have to say I was blown away with what I saw and what I was able to discuss with the staff working there. Kim Whiteside (Ward Manager) played host and what an inspiration she was! Clearly leading a highly motivated team from the front, she appeared to literally have her finger on the pulse of what was a unpredictable and turbulent clinical environment.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Kim made a spontaneous Dragons Den pitch for some investment in the way the MAU stored, dispensed and ensured safe medication administration. The MAU had both the 'traditional' medicine storage arrangements, and was also the site for the 'out of hours medication' storage. The latter was a state of the art and highly innovative piece of kit like the one shown here from Omnicell. It was finger print controlled, linked to the hospital information system and main pharmacy and was extremely easy to use. It really did ensure safe medicine practice was possible. The downside, well this innovative piece of technological kit cost in the region of £20,000 to buy. But her case needs considering!

Innovation featured in other ways in my week. 06.00 on Monday morning, the first day back for me after the Christmas break, I found there was no internet connection in the School. There was no milk in the fridge, so it was black coffee, and a chance to catch up on my reading off-line. Ironically, the report I had to hand was the 'Innovating Pedagogy 2015' report published by the Open University and SRI International. I really enjoyed reading it and you too can also take a look at it here. The report identifies 10 trends that are likely to transform education over the next decade.  

These trends include 'crossover learning', learning that is enriched by experiences from everyday life; learning 'through argumentation', learning that draws on promoting the understanding of contrasting ideas and technical reasoning; 'incidental learning', the unplanned or unintentional learning that can occur while carrying out an activity that is seemingly unrelated to what is learned, often triggering self-reflection; interpreting new information in the context of where and when it occurs and relating this to what is already known can lead to 'context-based learning'; the use of 'computational thinking' through deconstructing complex problems, pattern recognition, abstraction and disregarding unimportant details and developing algorithms; 'learning through experiment', but doing so by accessing and doing science at a distance; and ‘embodied learning’ via wearable sensors, cameras and mobile devices; personalising access to learning materials through computer based applications that promote ‘adaptive learning’; with some of these approaches also being used for 'stealth assessment' and 'student engagement'. It’s a report that makes fascinating and compelling reading,  

Last Friday morning, I took myself off to the 'Landing' at Media City UK as I was to take part in a workshop aimed at exploring how a digitally connected Salford could improve the lives of those living with dementia. Facilitated jointly by Salford City Council and HAELO, there were colleagues from the Police, Fire and Rescue Services, Primary Care services, CVS, Salford Local Authority, Housing Associations and of course the University’s Dementia Institute. There was much innovation to be seen. From using big data to understand patterns of behaviour, prevalence of health and social problems, through to using assisted technology to keep people safe from themselves, and to enable others to care for those most vulnerable. The latter allowed families to keep a 'running commentary' going on what their loved one was doing and helped the Police develop highly sophisticated search approaches to be employed when someone goes missing. It was truly impressive stuff. The workshop was the start of something very innovative and very exciting – 'Dementia United' – watch this space for the official launch later in the Spring. 

Sunday, 3 January 2016

A slight look back at 2015 - the 2016 New Year Blog

Last year felt as if it flew past. As the blog title suggests, and with apologies to Oasis, ‘as my year slides away, don’t look back in anger, you’ll hear me say’ - I thought it was a great year. In 2015, both W and I reached the grand old age of 60. Over the last 12 months we have enjoyed a whole range of 60th birthday celebration parties, starting with a huge outdoor one last May. That party had taken a year to plan and the only thing that wasn't perfect was the weather, which right at the last moment decided to turn chilly and windy. 

Two other members of the family were having significant birthdays during 2015 – Emma who was 40 and Glenda who was 70, chose to celebrate with us in May. Our eldest daughter Jennifer (who was also 40 in 2015, but who chose to keep this fact to herself), had a small family celebration last week. Over a 100 people came to the May birthday party and we had smaller events for other friends up here in Scotland. If anyone wants a barely used Garden Marquee (in black, with church arch windows) just let me know – I have one and I don’t expect to use it again. 

Other things I didn't expect to do was to travel so often to Abu Dhabi last year. But due to the project we have out there I found myself flying out there once a month for the Board meeting. I did get to visit the splendour and quiet sacredness of the Grand Mosque, a truly awe inspiring experience. At the other end of the spectrum, I also spent a week in Uganda, visiting our students on clinical placements out there. I found it very challenging to witness the often abject and endemic poverty that appear to characterise so many people’s lives. However, there was examples of resilience to be seen and the students and I were privileged to meet some of the most creative and innovative people I had come across in while.

One of the other places I also visited last year was Slovakia. I went there to celebrate the life of my long term friend and colleague Alzbeta, who had died in 2012. It was a poignant ceremony, but one I was very pleased to be asked to be part of. Later on in the year, and for the first time in 8 years, I returned to Australia to take part in the International Mental Health Nursing conference. It’s a conference that holds great significance for me, both in terms of my professional development and achievements and for personal reasons.

The last time I had been there was immediately after my brother Christopher had died in 2007. Although his death was sudden and not expected, he had struggled with poor health for a large number of years. Sadly there were others in my life who had also struggled with life shortening conditions. My thoughts are with the families of Irene, Alex, Maureen, Pauline, Fraser, and Kevin, all of whom died during 2015. At the last funeral, Kevin’s, just before Christmas we were asked not to wear black – which for those of you who know me, this was a slight challenge. Anyway my wardrobe now contains a yellow number.

And like the average Ambridge year (a show which celebrated its 65th anniversary on the 1st Jan 2016), as well as deaths and illness there were plenty of good things to note as well. Our 9 grandchildren all continue to flourish; the long running saga of my parents missing sofas was resolved; I won the 2015 village boules championship; got to watch the Osprey chicks hatch, get reared by the most attentive parent birds and saw them eventually fly the nest. I was invited to take part in a ‘thought leadership’ group aimed at making a difference to nurse education, and I finally managed to buy a strimmer whose cutting cord doesn't break when you hit a stone.  

The School continues to be the best performing School in the University. My thanks go to all my wonderful colleagues who put so much of themselves into ensuring the Schools success in so many areas of its work. It makes my job one of the best in the world and one I feel privileged to undertake. I took a 10 day break for Christmas 2015. And now the holiday has been gone and I feel ready for the challenges the new year will bring, This is the first blog of 2016, and I wish all my blog readers the very best for the year to come- and thanks for all your support over the past year.