Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter 2016: The Good, the Bad and the Inspirational

Now last Wednesday I was in the National Football Museum, in Manchester. As many people who know me will testify, it’s the last place people might find me. Football doesn’t do anything for me at all – I don’t understand why it is often described as the national sport or what the fuss is about - however, I was there to be part of the 23rd anniversary celebrations of the work of Youth Charter, a UK based charity, which aims to provide young people with opportunities to develop themselves through sport, arts and cultural activities.

Geoff Thompson, Chair and founder of Youth Charter led the evening’s celebrations and described the great work being undertaken. A former Olympic Gold medallist and internationally recognised for his contribution to Karate, Geoff has, over the past 15 years, been a leading light in developing innovative ideas and approaches aimed at addressing anti-social youth behaviour, child obesity, weapon and gang culture. He is a true giant of a man in all senses of the word.

I had never been inside the Football Museum before and there was lots to see. One of the take home images collected during the evening however, was that of the urinals in the Gents toilets. It was an image I found very amusing and I continued to be amused when I saw at the mixed reactions from others when I tweeted the picture later.  Actually Twitter and tweeted images were much in evidence last week. 

Just 7 minutes after the terrorist attack at Brussels Airport, I was picking up tweets of the news and the first pictures of the wispy trails of black smoke coming out of the terminal. These were images that completely belied the tragic events happening inside the building. Again, innocent people lost their lives and many other injured as a consequence of the actions of a few perverse individuals labouring under the distorted interpretation of the sacred religious beliefs and profound cultural values of the majority. The following day, my taxi driver engaged me in conversation about the EU referendum and where I stood. He told me he was for exiting. His reasoning was not evidence based, but was passionately held. Migration - he felt we needed to regain control of our borders and reduce the risk of terrorists entering the county undetected. The attacks in Brussels had provided the justification for his position.

Thursday saw me travelling down to London for my last ever Council of Deans Executive meeting. I have been one of the nursing representatives for just over 3 years and have felt really proud to serve the profession during a time of great change and turbulence. I will miss meeting up with the Executive and the wider membership at our various meetings. They have truly been an inspiration and such a supportive and positive group of people.

What was not inspirational was the customer service on Virgin Trains. No wi-fi going down, and no beer on the return journey. The guards excuse for running out of beer, 'it was due to people drinking it'. I did, however, like the Easter advertisement for eggs from Scotland, which given other event last week seemed both apt and inspired! 

After a long week, it was off the train at Manchester, and into my car for the drive up to the House in Scotland. Surprisingly, there was very little traffic and the journey took no longer than usual. Good Friday was a glorious day, full of blue skies and sunshine. Easter is an important and significant point in the year for many religions. For me, whilst remembering the tragic events in Brussels earlier in the week, and the devastating impact that will have meant for so many, it was good to see families enjoying themselves on the beach in safe and peaceful surroundings. 

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Doing 60 something, but not Viagra, Cocaine or Bingo in the Slow Lane of Life

I have to say I absolutely enjoyed reading Carol Midgley’s column in the Times last Wednesday. It was a piece about why men in their sixties are going wild, using as its hook the story of Professor Nicholas Goddard (61). He resigned from his post as Professor of Analytical Science at Manchester University last week, after being outed as a porn star. Apparently, 60 is very much the new 30. Sixtysomethings are said to feel a spring in their step which leaves younger people lagging behind. It appears that unlike the millennial generation, we baby boomers benefited from free healthcare, education, decent pensions and affordable housing. And now, divorce, widowhood, Viagra, cruises and the silver pound are all helping to drive what is fast becoming a new age of hedonism - that is being 60-70 years old in 2016. 

I don’t always read the Times newspaper, but I was travelling back from London and it was a paper left behind by a fellow passenger. The evening before I had attended an Alumni reception at the Houses of Parliament. Now being a Sixtysomething myself I found the prospect of going inside the House of Commons for such an event quite exciting. I wasn’t disappointed either. Even the hassle of getting through the very tight security was, in its own way, exciting.  

The event was sponsored by the Salford and Eccles MP – Rebecca Long Bailey and was attended by a large group of influential alumni and donors, along with senior colleagues from across the university. The conversations were good and the buzz in the room electric. However all good things must come to an end and as we left the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben struck 10 o’clock (22.00 in new money). It was a magical end to a wonderful evening. Whilst some of the party felt the night was still young, others drifted off to bed.

I was in the half of the party that was hungry and not quite ready for bed. However the restaurants around the hotel all appeared to close their kitchens at 10.30pm and so we were reduced to eating peanuts with our glass of wine as we put the worlds to right. Midnight seemed to arrive very quickly and the 06.15 train back to Manchester even quicker. Wednesday was midway through week 7 of my new role, and I was really pleased to have a brilliant workshop meeting with our VC that confirmed we were both on the same page in terms of the ambition and reach of our University ICZ Programme.

Likewise, last Thursday evening saw me out to dinner with the Deans Group, which provided a further opportunity to test out my thinking and gain some much valued feedback. I also got to hear some constructive and creative ideas as to what might be achievable. I was buoyed up with the huge enthusiasm and passion of the group as we discussed a wide range of possibilities. The way forward has to be through co-creation and the Deans Group are definitely up for it!

I was by far the older person in the group – something I will come back to in a moment. Last Friday mornings meetings included a great opportunity to meet with the Trustees from the Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust. This is an organisation that has been so generous in their support for our Institute of Dementia. Last Friday’s meeting was an opportunity to bring the Trust up to speed with the work of the Institute and our plans for the future. The Institute contributes to one of 2 global challenges (Ageing; and Energy) that the University is committed to addressing.  

Ageing is a global issue. Locally its estimated that by 2030, 14% of the population of Greater Manchester will be over the age of 75 years old, and already 20% of those aged between 50 and 65 are out of work. The demographics are worrying to say the least. Buts that’s not all that worrying. Let’s not forget the starting point of this blog posting. Public Health England data, published last year revealed that a random test of Bingo Hall toilets found them to be awash with cocaine, and that 634 pensioners aged 65+ had required treatment for drug addiction, a 20% increase on the previous 12 months. Viagra, cocaine, red wine and rock ‘n’ roll, hmmm, I don't think so, I’m beginning to enjoy the view from the quiet lane…

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Conversations, Reflections and Communities of the Curious

Last Tuesday evening I had a long overdue dinner and conversation with my colleague, mentor and friend Karen H. It was good to catch up and talk. One of the things we talked about was her past work on a project for Nurse Education Scotland on the educational preparation of nurses. This part of our conversation was purposeful as the following afternoon I was catching a train to Scotland to take part in a Quinquennial Review of the Health Sciences School at Stirling University. Every University undertakes something similar, a regular review of the work of a particular School, the way in which the students experience their studies and what the plans might be for the future.

Much of the journey was uneventful. I sat and read, watched the world go by and generally enjoyed the experience. I sat opposite 2 women who had boarded the train at Manchester Airport and were on their way home. Home for them was Lockerbie.

As the train pulled into Lockerbie station, it was possible to see part of the town bathed in the late afternoon sunlight. The scene looked peaceful and a world away from the events of 21st December 1988, when Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed over Lockerbie by a Libyan terrorist bomb. All 243 passengers and 16 crew as well as 11 of the Lockerbie residents were killed. It may have been just me, but as the train pulled out of the station, I felt there was a shared moment or two of respectful and reflective silence.

By contrast, arriving amidst the chaos of Edinburgh Haymarket Station, was a jolt of instant harsh reality. My next train terminated at Dunblane. Seeing the train station name evoked an almost physical reaction of sadness and loss in my heart. On the 13th March, 20 years ago today, 16 children and their teacher were murdered by a lone gunman at the Dunblane Primary School. It remains one of the UKs worst mass shootings. The children were all aged 5-6 years old.

That morning in Dunblane has been described by those living there as starting off like many other March mornings, dry, bright, cold and frosty, with snowdrops and daffodils in full flower. And in the quietness and still cold air of the early morning as I walked across the beautiful Stirling campus last Thursday, I reflected on how it might be that within such closely geographically located communities so much unexpected tragedy could be experienced.

The review of the work of the Health Sciences School went well. The paper work, sent in advance, effectively captured and presented the work and ambitions of the School. The staff were articulate in the telling of their stories and the enthusiasm of the students in describing their experience was almost palatable. 

The higher education system in Scotland is slightly different from the rest of the UK. Unlike the English approach of 3 years degree programmes, 4 year degree programmes are the norm, (also in many parts of the US and in Hong Kong). It’s claimed that the 4 year degree offers students enhanced flexibility and academic breadth. For students living in Scotland or elsewhere in the EU (which strangely does not include the rest of the UK) all course fees are paid for by the Scottish tax payer. 

I pay taxes in both England and Scotland, and as a taxpayer I think the current system is probably unsustainable in the longer term. There are other challenges arising from the geographical vastness of Scotland. Many of the students I met in Stirling accessed their studies at a distance using digital technology to do so. Indeed some of the conversations I had with the students were conducted using video conferencing facilities.  But there was a hint of disappointment to be heard in some of the student’s stories around the lack of opportunity for face-to-face contact.

Such student observations are not uncommon, and it’s something as educators we need to be aware of in designing and facilitating our programmes. Tony Sheehan (from the London Business School) reflected my thinking on this in his report in the Financial Times last week. He was discussing the rise of on-line courses in Business Schools, and said ‘digital transmission of knowledge is wonderful, but the very best way of learning [the art and science of management and business] will always include face-to-face interactions in a community of the curious’.  I couldn’t agree more! 

My week ended with a conversation as good as that I enjoyed with Karen H at the start of the week. I was privileged to participate in a conversation led by Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS England, held at the DW Stadium, Wigan. Representatives from all the stakeholder partners were in attendance and it was wonderful to hear the creative and leading edge work being undertaken in Wigan being cited as providing the example for the rest of the NHS to follow.  

Sunday, 6 March 2016

A Man a Day, Tony Blair, and half a dozen 70kg Women

I had a slight moment of impulsiveness last week. I know it wasn’t much and really don’t know why I did it. I was in the lounge at Dubai waiting to catch my plane home, when the newspaper rack caught my eye. Among all many newspapers from around the world were copies of the Guardian and Daily Mail, the latter was printed that day in Dubai. Neither papers' approach to reporting the news appeals to me much. I did know that my Mum and Dad like the Daily Mail, so making sure nobody I knew was watching, I reached out and sneaked a copy into my bag. Sitting on the plane waiting to take off, I started to read it. What I found was an absolute treasure chest full of life advice riches.

The header on the front page made the claim it knew what men should eat to avoid prostate cancer. Inside, there was a 4 page pullout recommending a daily diet that consisted of at least half plant based food (tick for me) having up to 3 tablespoons of flax seed a day (no idea what flax seed is, so no points there) and to avoid eggs and milk (again no points there). It was a fascinating article. There was even a passing reference to the Skene’s Gland, the female equivalent of the male prostate. 

However that was the least of it. I found that eating kale was as good as running 300 miles; that happiness can break your heart as well as sadness; 400 people a day are admitted to hospital with sepsis; of the need to be aware of the danger of old cigarette smoke that lurks deep inside our homes; that people in Scotland may need to retire 2 years before the English because of poorer health; that consuming just 2 energy drinks a day increases the risk of stroke and heart attacks; that 3 in 4 of us only ever leave our desk for tea or to go to the loo; that allegedly it was Blair who was responsible for ruining the NHS; and that Prosecco rots your teeth.

There was also a very interesting story about what 6 very different looking women had in common – My interest was captured by the picture. The common shared factor was they all weighed 70kg (11 stone in old money). It wasn't clear how many of the Daily Mail stories were evidence based. But I found many of the stories compelling, and it was 60 minutes of condensed but intense reading. Thinking about this and after speaking with an internationally renowned scientist (see last week’s blog for details) who absolutely believed in the educational benefits of Wikipedia, I was left with a sense that we really do need to think about what our educational system needs to offer contemporary students.

And last week colleagues from my old School hosted the first ‘Wecommunities get together’ to explore the future of social media in healthcare. It was a crowd designed/funded/delivered event that attracted 250 people, many of whom were major influencers and commentators on health and social care issues. All the delegates were keen to learn, share and innovate! I was in Abu Dhabi at the time, but able to lurk and follow the amazing event through the use of the #WGT16 hashtag and the wonder of the internet. 

After eating breakfast in the sunshine and 30c heat, I left Abu Dhabi last Thursday. 24 hours and 3500 miles later, in Manchester, I got up to a blizzard that lasted all day. Brrrr, it was cold, but there was a ray of sunshine though. I was privileged to open the Association of Advanced Practice Educators 2016 conference. This was a more familiar and traditional conference get together, although the conference focus was right up to date: it focused on considering the Impact of Inter-Professional Advanced Practitioners on Service Design and Health and Social Care. Unlike all the health related stories in the Daily Mail, I think both of these conferences are likely to result in a much greater outcome for us all. And I am so proud to be associated with the work of both groups!