Sunday, 1 July 2018

Hearing Voices: the privilege of being part of great conversations


This week’s blog captures some of the voices I heard last week; voices that for different reasons struck a chord. And what a week it was! Here in Greater Manchester, the blistering sun has continued to shine and we have had more fires on the surrounding moorland than I can remember in a very long time. These have been massive fires, and the smoke could be seen (and smelt) wherever you travelled across Greater Manchester. I was very impressed with the response from the public. Volunteers joined forces with the fire service folk to beat out the flames with whatever they had; others provided refreshments to all those fighting the fires in the high temperatures. I heard nothing but praise and support in the messages sent out on social media to all those involved or impacted by the fires. As I write this, the smoke is still visible on a number of the hills. 

Tuesday saw me enjoying the weather in the lovely seaside town of Cleveleys. Although the tide was a long way out it was still good to be able to walk together on the beach and watch the sun set on the horizon. Lunch was had in one of the many fish and chip restaurants on the front (thankfully I was able to have a cheese ploughman’s). Later J and I were able to call on ‘Jenny the M’ for tea and cakes. It was a wonderful experience. I had never met her before, although we tweet a lot to each other. Jenny has worked for the NHS for nearly 40 years, and is widely recognised for her advocacy of evidence-based midwifery practice. She recently was one of those ‘Health and Care Top 70 Stars’ - part of the celebration of the NHS’s 70th anniversary on July 5th. Our conversations went way into the evening as we shared stories and tried to put the world to rights. She is a truly generous lady who wears her eccentricity well. A woman after my own heart.

Wednesday had me experiencing very different conversations. I attended the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust monthly Board meeting. It was always likely to be a difficult meeting, as the Board was due to take a decision on the creation of a wholly-owned subsidiary company to provide all the future estate and facilities services for the Trust. As expected, a large group of staff from these areas were in attendance, along with full-time representatives from the Unison and Unite trade unions. The case was presented and a vote was taken, with the outcome being a unanimous decision to proceed. It didn’t go down well with those present and the Unison representative read a pre-prepared speech condemning the decision, whereas the Unite representative launched into a tirade of mostly untruths, saying ‘he knew where we all lived’, that we were ‘scum bags’ and made threats to the running of the hospital. Neither union appeared to have a cogent argument and appeared to rely on belligerence and being disingenuous to make their voice heard. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. 

Thursday was a much better day. One of the things that made it a better day was reading Lynn Findlay’s new blog on walking and running as therapy (see here). I always like reading Lynn’s blogs. She writes reflectively, with humour, knowledge and experience. I was not alone in appreciating her blog, as Lynn received many responses from people wishing to help and be involved in her work. 

Friday dawned, and with it a different opportunity to hear the voice of someone passionate about their work. I was the internal examiner in a PhD viva exam. Now I have done nearly 40 PhD viva examinations, and have supervised 22 students through to completion of their doctoral studies. Undertaking a viva and being a PhD supervisor is a great privilege, and both activities have been something I have really enjoyed doing as an academic. Alas now I only have three PhD students to supervise. I had read Friday’s candidate thesis with much interest. Her study was focused on capturing the experiences of people who in a mental crisis had used a telephone street triage team to get help. 

It was a good piece of work. Based around three case studies, and using a narrative approach to both her data collection and analysis, she had really found an effective way to privilege the voice of service users. Many aspects were explored along the way, including: what might really constitute a place of safety for those experiencing a mental crisis to be taken to; the role of the Police in such situations (her study found the Police involved with her participants were caring, compassionate and had very good interpersonal communication skills); and the sad lack of readily available follow up care once the crisis had settled. The viva examination was a conversation, with not a hint of adversarial approaches involved. She defended her thesis well and I am pleased to report that we recommended she was made the award of PhD subject to her completing some minor corrections. It was a great way to end of week of contrasting voices.