Can I make a difference? by Paul Gray

It’s a big question – can I make a difference?  How does it feel to ask yourself that?  For some of us, the answer will be different on different days.  My experience suggests that your answer depends much less on what you do, than it does on how you feel.  In this blog, I’d like to offer some thoughts on making a difference.

However, some context first.  I fully recognise the challenges we face.  Health budgets are going up – but pressures on recruitment, and the demands of an aging population, are also very real.  There is also still much to do in tackling inequalities, and improving the health of the population, which NHS Scotland can’t do on its own.  And we do know that people have the best outcomes when they are treated and cared for at home, or in a homely setting.  So our current models of care are transforming to meet these demands, and to provide the most appropriate care and treatment for people, when they need it, and change brings its own challenges.

So my first suggestion is to turn the question, “Can I make a difference?” into a statement – I can make a difference.  If you start from that standpoint, you’re much more likely to succeed.  It’s easy to become pre-occupied with the things we can’t change, and the barriers and problems – I know that I fall into that trap from time to time.  But wherever I go, I see people throughout the NHS, and in our partner organisations, making a difference every day.  So ask yourself, what is the one thing I can do today that would make a difference?  And then do it!

paul-1Now, give yourself some credit – think of an example where you did something that was appreciated.  Write it down and remember it.  If you’re having a team meeting, take time to share examples of things that the team did, that were appreciated by others.  Sharing these examples will give you a bank of ideas about simple things that matter to other people.  And it also gives you something to fall back on, if times are tough.

Next – think of an example when someone did something for you, which you appreciated.  Find a way to share these examples too – if it worked for you, it might work for someone else as well.  Ask yourself when you last thanked someone for something they did well, or something you appreciated.  It’s easier to go on making a difference if others notice what you’re doing!

If you’re leading or managing a team, ask yourself how much time the team spends discussing what went well.  It’s essential to be open and transparent about problems and adverse events, but if that’s the whole focus of team discussions, we overlook a huge pool of learning, resources and ideas from all the positive actions and outcomes.  And we risk an atmosphere where making a difference is only about fixing problems, rather than about improvement.  So, as yourself and your team, what proportion of time should be spent on what went well?

Remember to ask “What Matters to You?”.  I know that the focus of this question is on patients, and that’s right because they are our priority, but it’s a good question to ask our colleagues and our teams as well.  Just asking the question makes a difference – it gives you access to someone else’s thoughts and perspectives, and is likely to lead to better outcomes.

paul-2Will any of this change the world?  Not on its own, of course.  But you could change one person’s world, by a simple act of kindness, or listening, or a word of thanks.  You can make difference!

Paul Gray is the Chief Executive Officer for NHS Scotland and the Director General for Health and Social Care at the Scottish Government

Honest Reflections by Barbara Tamburrini

As this is now the third blog I have written for DGHealth, either there is a shortage of ‘willing volunteers’ or others have found better ways to say “maybe, possibly, perhaps soon” to Ken Donaldson when his charming request drops in the email ‘in-box’. Whatever the reason, I find myself agreeing to contribute and construct another brief moment of interest in our increasingly busy days. Having written previously about handover processes and the importance of good communication, I thought I would flip this on its head for this blog and consider the ‘inward’ communication reaching our ears from eager and sometimes over-active media sources and outlets.

A scan of headlines published over recent times don’t make happy reading for hard-working and dedicated NHS employees trying their best to simply ‘stay afloat and fight the fire’. Over the last 4 days, a number of reports sum up the general gist of current NHS news:

  • 9th Feb 17 – “Worst A&E waits ever, leak suggests” – BBC News
  • 8th Feb 17 – “The NHS and its crisis: Myths and realities” – Sky News
  • 7th Feb 17 – “Scotland’s A&E departments miss key waiting time targets over festive period” – Daily Record
  • 7th Feb 17 – “Maternity services in Scotland ‘beginning to buckle’” – BBC News
  • 7th Feb 17 – “Ageing UK midwife workforce on ‘cliff edge’, warns RCM” – Nursing Times
  • 7th Feb 17 – “NHS [Scotland] cancels 7740 operations due to lack of resources” – STV News
  • 5th Feb 17 – “Scotland patients waited more than a year for hospital discharge” – Sky News
  • 5th Feb 17 – “Revealed: The hidden waiting list scandal for Scotland’s NHS” – Sunday Post
  • 5th Feb 17 – “Growing waiting times threat to NHS” – BBC News

The recent coverage by the BBC assessing the state of the NHS across the UK in their NHS Health Check Week raised issues including a perception of desperate times inside A&E departments, analysis of patient flow reducing to a halt and “clogging up” hospital wards and frontline services being radically changed in attempts to overhaul health provision in the wake of the publication of NHS England’s five-year plan for the NHS in 2014. Indeed, as recently as 15th January 2017, chair of the BMA, Dr Peter Bennie was quoted as stating the Scottish NHS was “stretched to pretty much breaking point” and “heading for a breakdown” unless the government acknowledge the disparity between the current comprehensive service provision and existing funding levels.

So what does all this mean for humble workers ‘at the coal face’ and patients who so desperately rely on the NHS and our contribution within it? Dr Bennie wisely points out that honesty is required when assessing all elements of our much loved but potentially deeply troubled NHS. Honest reflection on our actions and behaviours as NHS staff is required to ensure we are all maintaining a focus firmly centred on our patients and clients. In a profession which is becoming more and more challenging with morale which seems to be ebbing lower and lower, can I really state with certainty that my focus is always upon my patients?

If I am looking at my last shift on duty, as part of the DGRI capacity team, I know that the greatest majority of my time was spent considering patient care but, the complexities of the work involved in capacity management mean a constant ‘juggle struggle’ between complicated discharges, patients keenly attending for their long-awaited surgery and fast and furious emergency admission rates with significant staff shortages thrown in to make life really interesting. This is a really difficult environment to function effectively, positively and proactively.

Its exceptionally difficult to have to say “I’m really sorry but I don’t have anyone who can give you a hand at the moment” to hard-working and struggling colleagues whom you respect and want to help. This inevitably influences work-focus and morale, sometimes away from patients and onto less fruitful, less important areas – we’re only human after all! I’m sure many of you reading this blog can identify with this and acknowledge that there can be times when we recognise that our concentration has slipped away from the real reason we are all here. This honest reflection is being actively encouraged in nursing through the revalidation process which will positively impact the profession in the future with a similar process in place for medical staff.

Honesty is also required from patients and clients using NHS services with individual ownership of health and the impact of lifestyle choices upon this of fundamental importance. The vast majority of NHS patients freely and actively claim this responsibility but this is not always the case in some crucial clinical areas like Emergency Departments. For the headlines to stop, the public also need to do their part. In a recent article in Glasgow’s ‘Evening Times’ (9th January 2017), it was stated that around 1 in 6 Scottish ED attendances may be unnecessary at a potential cost of £33 million and whilst ministers have provided responses aimed at removing any punitive element and reassuring the public that they are right to be concerned about their health, this concern needs to be correctly channelled for current pressures on health services to be eased. Patients with 3-month history of injuries, minor ailments which could be assessed elsewhere and those telling us they didn’t bother trying their GP as “they wouldn’t get an appointment anyway” are all too frequent presentations in busy ED’s. In my ‘other role’ as an ANP in ED, every time a patient told me this, I called the surgery myself and was given an appointment that day for their patient so, as well as accepting ownership of their own health, patients and service-users also need to be well-informed, confident and comfortable about the health services they access and when they utilise these valuable resources.

My feeling is that an organisational honesty also exits within current healthcare with ‘the powers that be’ having a responsibility to consistently and carefully examine the healthcare delivered with rectitude and reliability. We are somewhat fortunate in that we have an organisation who actively engages with staff through measures such as #ontheground, weekly core briefings, active and lively facebook and twitter accounts and the informative and interesting DG Change website (http://www.dg-change.org.uk). Indeed, this weekly blog also serves as a useful interactive communication with reflections and comments on posts actively encouraged. But is this enough? I would argue that even though these proactive measures exist in NHSDG along with many other approaches, staff morale remains low in some clinical areas and sickness absence rates are running well above optimum levels in some departments. So, are the current measures of engagement between the organisation and its employees inaccessible, uninteresting or unimportant to some staff, not effective enough, not addressing the correct issues or simply not delivering the desired impact? Although impossible to answer within this blog, the significance of this question and the consequences associated with it, must remain high on the agenda if staff empowerment, engagement, motivation and morale are to be maximised as we hurtle head-long towards a new hospital and evolving chapter in our healthcare provision.

Every ward I go in to during my capacity shift has AHP’s, nursing and medical staff who look tired, strained and burdened by an ever-increasing workload with constant financial and resource pressures making the job all the more difficult. But, and this is crucial, staff continue to come to work to do the best job they can given these constraints. They continue to change rota’s to cover absences, work through breaks and past finishing times to help their colleagues and patients and they continue to ‘fight the fire’ with dedication, sometimes in the face of adversity. Healthcare staff MUST care about the service they provide, to deliver care which remains meaningful, appropriate, safe, effective and patient-centred.

Whilst we as staff have a responsibility to continually reflect on our own practice, this must be fully supported, actively encouraged and consistently underpinned by honest reflection at a strategic level on the current ‘state-of-affairs’ and how this can be promoted and enhanced within the existing inflexibility of financial austerity.

Therefore, returning to our news headlines, what does the future hold for the NHS locally and nationally? Locally, despite considerable challenges, there are exciting times ahead as we look to fully embed health and social care integration and also move our main hospital services into our new build. Nationally, the picture is less clear with ever-increasing financial pressures being placed on continually growing workloads in a society with greater demands in terms of health due to conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases. This is compounded by an ageing population sometimes presenting with chronic conditions which one simply did not survive from a decade or two ago.

hould we as NHS employees, the general public, healthcare service providers and users be concerned about the growing tide of negative headlines? Perhaps. Maybe these give an insight into the ‘health of our NHS’ – gosh, that’s a worrying thought. Or maybe, we now live in an environment feeding off news negativity and scandal in which we have all become de-sensitised to minor challenges therefore pushing media providers to ‘raise-the-bar’ in their reactionary reporting of our beloved NHS which would have, until relatively recently, been ‘off-limits’ to the eager reporter looking for a scoop however vague, misleading or sensational.

Lets return to our honesty theme. Within this blog, I have suggested that some honesty is required in our NHS and this should also extend to the reporting of challenges and issues to a certain extent. The antonym to sensationalism, where bad, critical or damming NHS news is forbidden with offenders punished by a stint taking minutes for certain western hemisphere parliamentary press conferences, is also not good for contemporary healthcare since this stifles and prevents honest reflection from which, lessons can be learned and development thrives.

There is every likelihood that the headlines wont go away and they may even increase in frequency or adversity. Perhaps though, if we all contribute in our own way, positive, honest and transparent analysis at individual, peer, organisational and national level will drive, develop and sustain an NHS we are all proud of and which we want to protect, however difficult or complex the discussions and decisions.

Barbara Tamburrini is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner at NHS Dumfries and Galloway

 

 

Improving Patient Flow by Chris Isles

Dave Pedley gave an excellent talk two Wednesdays ago on Tackling Crowding in Emergency Departments, triggered no doubt by the number of times recently we have been running at 100% bed occupancy with patients sitting in chairs in the Emergency Department because there were no free cubicles.

The nightmare scenario for us all as the clock ticks inexorably towards December 2017 is that the same thing happens when our fabulous new hospital opens and the TV cameras, newspapers and journalists begin to salivate at the prospect that something goes wrong (there will be no story to report if the transition to the new hospital goes smoothly and there are no corridor patients).

The chances that something could go wrong are actually quite high and the problem is almost entirely medical by which I mean the large number of frail older people living precariously in the community who fall, become immobile, incontinent or delirious and require at least some form of assessment but often admission to hospital.

The omens are not good.  Dumfries and Galloway has the second highest proportion of people in Scotland who are aged 75+ and living alone.  Our Health Intelligence Unit have shown that despite numerous initiatives and new ways of doing things the Medical Unit would be sailing perilously close to 100% bed occupancy if we moved into the new hospital today. (See me previous blog on the new hospital here)

During his talk Dr Pedley showed a powerful 5 minute video by Musgrove Park Hospital in Somerset entitled Tackling Exit Block ie their hospital’s inability to move patients through ED because of numerous interrelated system failures.  (https://youtube/WX1YwKIkWzA).  Musgrove Park ‘s Top Ten Reasons Why People Cant Leave Hospital were as follows:

  1. Discharge delayed so patient can have lunch
  2. Carer/relative can’t pick them up till after work
  3. Nurses too busy looking after other patients to arrange discharge
  4. Waiting for transport or refusing to leave without free transport
  5. Waiting for pharmacy
  6. Waiting for ward round
  7. Waiting for blood or scan results
  8. Waiting for discharge letters
  9. Packages of care planned for late afternoon/early evening
  10. Patient doesn’t want to go to the assigned bed in community hospital

During discussion a number of solutions to our own recurrent difficulties with patient flow were proposed.  These included tackling all of the above in addition to attempting to educate the public about when and when not to attend ED.  My own view is that this might be as fruitless as King Canute sitting in his throne on the beach and attempting to stop the incoming tide on the grounds that any patient who comes up to ED and is prepared to wait up to 4 hours and possibly more to see a doctor or a nurse must feel they have a very good reason to be there (one often quoted reason being that they could not get an appointment to see their GP).

There were some illuminating moments.  We asked Patsy Pattie whether Dynamic Daily Discharge was still as effective as it had been when it was first rolled out.  She replied that some wards needed support on embedding the process.  Dr Pedley praised staff for their firefighting skills on those occasions when patients were unable to access cubicles in ED which prompted Philip Jones, our chairman, to say that a corporate rather than firefighting response was needed.  Many heads nodded in agreement.

A corporate response might mean fixing lots of little things in order to make patients flow through the system more speedily.  Dynamic Daily Discharge could then become an established part of ward routine rather than an optional extra; the paperwork in the medical assessment area might need to be simplified to allow nurses to move patients into the body of the ward more quickly; a nurse on each ward might be designated to carry the ward phone rather than allow it to ring endlessly in the hope that someone else will pick it up; clinical teams would actively consider how patients might get home;  consider community detox for alcohol withdrawal; patients earmarked for discharge might move to the dayroom unless physically unable to do so; hospital taxis might take people home if relatives or patient transport cannot do so; patients could be issued with a prescription to take to their local pharmacy if new medications are required or go home with immediate discharge letter to follow if not.

To these solutions I would add fully funded Ambulatory Emergency Care and Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment services together with more and better social care and a commitment to fill the hospital with more staff on public holidays (of which there will be four within one month of the new hospital opening).

The Chief Executive of Musgrove Hospital finished her contribution to the Exit Block video by saying ‘we need every single member of staff to understand their responsibility in ensuring patients flow through our hospital so that we can discharge them home as quickly and as safely as possible’.  Who could disagree?

Professor Chris Isles is Sub-dean for Medical Education and is a Locum Acute Physician.

Reflections on Imperfections (In memory of Dr Johan Leuvennink, my friend) by Fanus Dreyer

While writing I am listening to Dozi, a troubadour who sings in Afrikaans and Zulu.

On Monday I attended the memorial service for my close friend, Johan Leuvennink, consultant psychiatrist, who died so suddenly. For the last two weeks I have been thinking about the paths we’re on and why these are so imperfect…

In December 2012 I had a knee replacement, necessary due to damage from playing rugby, jumping from aeroplanes and boulder hopping in canyons and on the Cape coast. It was 14 weeks before I could go back to work and where else would a knee recover more quickly than in the heat and dust of Africa. So we went to Zambia for teaching critical care and then to South Africa to visit family. As David Ball and Pete Armstrong returned from Lusaka to Dumfries I went south, with a stopover in Johannesburg. At O.R.Tambo’s Ocean Basket I ate Cape kingklip and calamari, with a glass of Durbanville chardonnay. My waiter was Pioneer, who recognised me from a visit the previous year, when about 10 of us descended on them for a meal. He asked me in detail what I did and so on, and then said “You have the greatest job. Not only are you able to save people’s lives, but you actually teach others to do the same“. I was humbled by Pioneer’s insight and very thankful for his words at a time when I didn’t feel like going back to work.

Pioneer’s words led to some serious thinking. Why then was I dreading to go back to my NHS job after only 3 months off? Well, I always feel that way after experiencing something of the heart and soul of Africa, but this time it was worse. Some things happened around the three weeks we spent in Zambia and South Africa. I received emails about critical incidents in patient care that I could not have influenced, but I was still asked to comment. On the first day back home I was phoned about students who had complained and I was asked to respond, even though I had not met these students. Somehow there is this perception that, if we just complain enough and change systems constantly, we will one day reach perfection. NO, it ain’t gonna happen!

In Tanzania in 2009 our guide, Cyprian, described the caricatures of all the different nations that he had taken on safari. We laughed at how he described Afrikaners, Germans, French and Japanese clients. He said that the British were those who would say “thank you very much, it was the most amazing trip of my life”, but on the feedback form they will always write one thing that should be better or different. Make no mistake, I always take complaints or concerns of those who “suffer under surgeons” very seriously, but simple moaning leaves me cold. I have just bought a car and, although it is great to have a new toy, it is not perfect for my requirements. My job is not perfect, nor is anything else in my life. So what! I’m happily cruising along through this life and can only stand and stare at the miracles it brings every day, again and again. We meet people who have suffered unimaginable losses and with severe disability and sorrow, and they continue to inspire me. I think Africa accepts life’s imperfections more easily. That is why Rwanda could move on and why South Africa had a peaceful transition. You also see that in the total lack of self-consciousness in the girl with a long scar on her face, in the man wearing a woman’s blouse and in the patient with the large goitre or fungating cancer. So my job is not perfect but Pioneer is not far off, it has perfect opportunity, and for that I am forever grateful.

…I had known Johan since he was my student in Tygerberg Hospital. He stood out because he asked challenging questions. And then we met again in Dumfries and shared some good times together, usually in serious discussion. We walked a difficult road together. I still cannot believe that he is gone and the question that remains in my head is “What price do we pay for the work we do?” I know that surgeons have a high rate of untimely deaths, and am sure the same goes for psychiatrists.

fanus-1This took me back to thinking about the National Geographic picture of Dr Zbigniew Religa and his patient, taken after he did the first heart transplant in Poland in 1987, which took 23 hours. In the picture Dr Religa sits and observes his patient’s vital signs, absolutely drained but still alert for anything that could go wrong, while an exhausted assistant sleeps in the corner. Twenty five years later the patient, Tadeusz Zytkiewicz, holds the same iconic photograph of “giving everything”, but Dr Religa, his surgeon, had died in 2007. The patient had outlived the surgeon.fanus-2

…Three years ago I asked Johan if he could teach me to play the piano. I have no talent and no ear for music but wanted to learn to play one song. He took on this challenge with his usual enthusiasm. After months of patience from him and practice by me I was able to play the right hand of this one special song, and this is still all I can play…

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you…

I think that at the end there is only one question to answer and that is “Did you love enough?” I have no doubt that Johan could say “Yes, I did”….

Maybe perfection really lies in what we give, not in what we achieve.

 

Fanus Dreyer 

Consultant Surgeon

NHS Dumfries & Galloway. 

The Best Start in Life by Laura Gibson

  • Getting It Right For Every Child
  • Giving children the best start in life
  • Making Scotland the best place to grow up
  • Improving the life chances of children, young people and families at risk
  • Reducing health inequalities

These high level national aspirations underpin much of the work that we, as healthcare professionals, are involved in delivering on a day to day basis. And achieving them does not start with children, the early years, or even pregnancy. It begins before conception. And I thoroughly believe that we are missing an opportunity. An opportunity which is inexpensive, evidence based and highly effective. That opportunity is better promotion of preconception health and care.

What is preconception health?

image1-2There is a clear link between a mother’s health before pregnancy and her baby’s health. We know that healthy women and men are more likely to have healthy babies who grow into healthy children 1. Therefore, thinking about, and improving, your health and wellbeing before conception increases your chances of a safe pregnancy, a thriving baby and a rewarding parenthood. Preconception is the safest and most effective time to prevent harm, promote health and reduce inequalities (pregnancy and birth outcomes are not as good for people living in the highest deprivation).

 
Currently, most people only consider two stages: avoiding pregnancy or being pregnant. With around 40% of all pregnancies being unplanned, the middle stage of preparing for the best possible pregnancy continues to be overlooked; in terms of policy, professional practice and individual thinking across Scotland. Where delaying pregnancy is the norm in Scotland (the average age of giving birth is 29.5 years, and 28 years for first time mothers), taking action to avoid pregnancy is not the same as preparing well for pregnancy.
image2Preconception health is about preparing for pregnancy, whether for your first pregnancy or your next pregnancy. What you do, or don’t do, before the pregnancy test says ‘yes you’re pregnant’ really matters. The choices you make and the actions you take before conception can make a big difference to you and your baby. That is true even if you haven’t given much thought to when you’d like to become a parent.

 
However, preconception health is not just for women, it is important for men too. There are steps that future fathers could take before creating a baby, for the sake of his own health and for that of his partner and their baby.

 
The infographic below, developed by Dr Jonathan Sher, an independent consultant and respected author of numerous published reports and blogs 2, identifies the steps women (and men, where relevant) should take to improve their preconception health:

image3-copy

Why promote preconception health?

Many things that may put your baby’s health at risk, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, taking drugs (prescribed or not), being overweight, being very stressed and some medical conditions, can all make an impact before you even know you are pregnant. That is why planning and preparing for pregnancy are so important.

 
However, not all the negative possibilities of pregnancy are inevitable. Many miscarriages, stillbirths, too early or too small babies, birth defects and other problems may be prevented and the odds of a good outcome can be improved. Good outcomes should not be left to luck alone. Doing what you can to become as healthy and ready as possible, and getting help if required, is hugely beneficial for yourself, your partner and your baby.

 
Traditionally, health promotion for pregnancy begins in the antenatal period, most often from first contact with Maternity Services at around 8 to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Many women are not aware that they are pregnant during the early weeks and months, and unfortunately it is not uncommon for women and men to continue negative health behaviours such as smoking and drinking alcohol through this important stage of early foetal development. Getting ready for pregnancy is as important as getting medical attention once you know you are pregnant.

image4

The concept that “every contact is a health improvement opportunity” demonstrates that all health and social care service providers who have contact with women and men of reproductive age can make a significant impact on optimising the preconception health of their service users. By utilising every opportunity to promote preconception health and to support women and men to make healthy lifestyle choices, the health and wellbeing of women and men who plan a pregnancy, as well as those who find themselves with an unintended pregnancy, can be maximised.

 
How can we incorporate preconception health into our work?

A new Preconception Health Toolkit that has been designed, tested and refined using Early Years Improvement Methodology will soon be available to support staff across all agencies to raise the issue of preconception health with their service users. The Toolkit includes information on risk indicators for adverse pregnancy outcome, health enhancing behaviours, tips for raising the issue and other suggestions for raising awareness.

image5

The Preconception Health Toolkit will be launched next Friday 27th January at an event at the Garroch Training Centre near Dumfries, 10am-11.30am. Dr Jonathan Sher, independent consultant, will deliver an interactive key note address. There are still places available, please contact me at lauragibson1@nhs.net if you’d like to participate.
Following the formal launch, the Toolkit, which has been developed specifically for non-specialist staff, will be available electronically to all staff and volunteers in the statutory and third sectors. Please contact me to request a copy or download it from http://www.sexualhealthdg.co.uk.

Laura Gibson, Health and Wellbeing Specialist, DG Health and Wellbeing, Directorate of Public Health

References

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology (2008) Standards for Maternity Care Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; London

J Sher (2016) Prepared for Pregnancy? NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (Public Health)

3 Woods, K (2008) CEL 14 Health Promoting Health Service: Action in Acute Care Settings The Scottish Government: Edinburgh

I am human by Dawn Renfrew

“I am human: I think nothing human alien to me”

dawn-1-terence-the-african

Terence the African

So wrote Terence the African, around 2000 years ago. He was a slave from Roman Africa, a dramatist, and an interpreter. He was quoted recently in the annual BBC Radio 4 Reith lectures, by Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor of philosophy and law at New York University.

dawn-2-appiah-now

Appiah Now

Professor Appiah’s subject, “Mistaken Identities”, is one of the most defining issues of our age. We all have multiple identities which describe who we are. These include those suggested by our gender, age, occupation, political affiliation, nationality, race etc. The possibilities are endless when you think about it: parent, child, sibling, friend, Bake-off fan, or Queen of the South fan are just a few.

In a healthcare setting, we also have many identities, including being part of our own discipline, team, ward or service. Sometimes we are ourselves patients, and some of us are managers. Any health condition, whether physical or mental, can become part of our identity.

Appiah himself embodies many complex aspects of identity. Half-British, half-Ghanaian, he was brought up in Ghana and England, and has now adopted America as his homeland. He is the grandson of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps. He is a crime novelist, and a fan of Japanese haiku. In addition, he was one of the first people to take advantage of the new gay marriage laws in New York State. He is probably ideally placed to set about unpicking assumptions which we all have about the “labels” associated with identity.

dawn-3-growing-up-in-england

Growing up in England

Appiah discusses 4 aspects of identity over 4 lectures: creed [religion], country [nationality], colour [race] and culture [Western identity vs non-Western]. These are delivered in 4 different locations: London, Glasgow, Accra [capital of Ghana] and New York. The lectures cover the great sweep of history, and examples from a range of countries across the globe. They argue that identities are more complex and fluid, than are commonly supposed. They are more a “narrative”, than an “essence”, and do not necessarily determine who we are. Everywhere you look, you can find exceptions in identities, which challenge our commonly-held assumptions about them.

dawn-4-growing-up-in-africa

Growing up in Ghana

Identity is important for our survival. It helps give meaning to our lives, and helps us feel, and be, part of a community. Evolutionary psychologists would argue that it has been critical to our development as a species. All identities are constructed and evolve over time, but as soon as you construct an identity, you create potentially not only an “us” [those within the group], but also an “other” [those outside it]. When there is competition for resources, things can turn nasty, and the “others” may be persecuted or scapegoated. So it is important that we are relaxed and open about our identities, and that we recognise why that process of “othering” arises so easily within all of us. It’s a trap that is easy to fall into, and we need to resist it.

Appiah doesn’t mention healthcare in particular. But if we apply these ideas to the healthcare setting, we can see that a shared identity can help us pull together to meet our patient’s needs, in what are often increasingly challenging circumstances. Equally, there can be a process of “othering” which operates, whether it is towards our patients, our managers, our employees, or other agencies. Whilst understandable, “othering” can prevent us fully engaging with the “other” in a way that leads to the best outcome for all of us. This is relevant to our aims to provide person-centred care, and to integration with other agencies.

On the question of nationhood, Appiah isn’t against nationalism, so long as it is an “open, civic nationalism”. His favourite idea of nationhood, however, involves 2 concepts. The first is patriotism, defined as concern with the honour of your country [or countries]. This means feeling proud when your country does something good, and ashamed when it does something bad. The second concept is cosmopolitanism, which means being a citizen of the world. These can combine to form a “patriotic cosmopolitanism”. You can, and should, respect both “the local” and “the global”.

Identities connect the small scale, where we live our lives alongside our kith and kin [and healthcare colleagues], with larger movements, causes and concerns. Our lives must make sense at the largest of scales as well as at the smallest. We live in an era where our actions, both ideological and technological, have global effects. When it comes to the compass of our concern and compassion, humanity itself is not too broad a horizon. We live with 7 billion other humans, on a small, warming planet. The concept of cosmopolitanism has become a necessity.

dawn-5-appiah-with-obama

Appiah with Obama

Appiah argues for a tolerant, pluralistic, and diverse society. He says, failure to accept this is not just a failure to understand human identity, it is not in our collective self-interest. We do not need to abandon identities, but we don’t need to be divided by them either. Ultimately, the identity of “being human” ought to transcend all others.

As Scout, the young heroine in the novel about race and mental illness, To Kill a Mocking Bird, concludes: “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks”.

The Reith lectures are available to listen to on the Radio 4 website, indefinitely.

Dr Dawn Renfrew is a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist for NHS Dumfries and Galloway

To Err Is Human by Maureen Stevenson

‘To Err Is Human’, to cover it up or fail to learn unforgiveable

It is now nearly 20 years since the Institute of Medicines (IOM) seminal work ‘To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System’, raised our collective conscience about the scale of harm in healthcare and that the majority of factors that give rise to error are systemic in nature.

maureen-1As we take our first tentative steps into 2017 and begin to think about how we might improve our work, work off those excess pounds and gain a new level of fitness and wellbeing (or maybe that’s just me!) it is important to reflect what has been achieved and what we will take forward into 2017:

  • A new Hospital
  • Integration of Health and Social Care
  • Development of a local Quality Improvement Hub

Whilst these might be strategic in nature there are many equally worthy service, team and individual achievements to be proud of, each one of them contributing to the wellbeing of many thousands of people, families and communities.

On a personal note I was very humbled to be able to accompany my Mum to an Alzheimer’s Scotland Christmas Tea Dance. In my head I had so many other callings on my time and attention, I rushed from a meeting straight into ‘the hokey cokey’ to truly learn ‘what it’s all about’ – people, compassion, caring and having fun. Wouldn’t it be lovely to retain that special feeling all year and to remember why we do the work that we do?

My blog today is about Human Factors. Human Factors (Ergonomics) i.e. the study of human activity (inside and outside of work). Its purpose as a scientific discipline is to enhance wellbeing and performance of individuals and organisations. The key principles are the interactions between you and your environment both inside and outside of work and the tools and technologies you use.

In my role as Patient Safety and Improvement Manager I have the great privilege of supporting individuals and teams to develop the capability to improve the quality, the safety and effectiveness of care. However, I also oversee our adverse event and learning systems which all too often highlight the failings in our systems and in our interactions with those sometimes very complex systems. Human Factors and ergonomics offers an opportunity for us to understand the interactions of humans working within often imperfect and messy systems. People who most of the time make the correct choices and decisions in difficult situations with incomplete information to help keep patients safe.

New thinking suggests that we should look at the actions and decisions that help keep patients safe and not only those that result in harm. If we were to support teams to understand the thinking and the behaviours that keep people safe we might enable a more resilient workforce able to vary their response to challenging situations.

Often the design inputs and processes related to the workplace fail to adequately take account of human abilities and characteristics, making it inevitable that failures will happen (and happen again). We know that many patient safety incidents across all health and social care sectors are directly related to a lack of attention to Human Factors issues such as the design of everyday work tasks, processes & procedures; equipment and technologies, organisation of work and working environments.

We would all agree that safe care delivered to a high standard is what we look for in a health and social care setting, and most of the time we achieve just that. Tremendous gains have been made in eliminating infections from our Intensive Care Units by standardising work practices and improving team communication. Improvements in Medicines Reconciliation have been seen across Primary and Secondary Care and work is currently underway to reduce pressure ulcers across our care system but how can we simultaneously improve efficiency and effectiveness and care that is delivered in a way that considers the needs of the recipient and the caregiver. Might a review of Human Factors help?

Human Factors (Ergonomics) can contribute to achieving this as it involves learning about our characteristics as humans (e.g. our physical size or strength, how we think and how we remember things), and using that understanding to improve our well-being and performance through the type of work we do, the tools and equipment we procure to do it and who we do it with.

The environment, the culture, our communication processes and leadership impact on system performance as they impact on how people perform. Understanding how improvements in one part of our system might be spread elsewhere will require careful attention to all of these factors.

To achieve a culture that is just and fair we have to take account of Human Factors, we need to understand what safe, effective person centred care looks like and be able to replicate the conditions that enable it to survive and thrive.

I’d like everyone’s Mum to experience the joy of care, apparently effortlessly given that accounted for her health, her care and her emotional needs. I’d like to extend a huge thank you to all the health and care staff and volunteers who together make that possible in very difficult circumstances.

My ambition for the year ahead is for us to become more proactive in our pursuit of safety , to understand what we might learn from when things work well and how that might impact on how we support individuals and teams to learn and continually improve. Safety II as this shift is being referred to will require a shift in our thinking and in how we behave. The table below highlights how we might begin that shift from Safety I to Safety II.

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As humans we bring our whole self to work, so let us use all of our resources and resourcefulness to enhance the safety and the experience of care. Nothing is more satisfying than bringing joy to those you work with whether they be your co workers or the patients and their families you care for.

Maureen Stevenson is the Patient Safety & Improvement Manager at NHS D&G

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