Topping Out by Phil Jones

Reflections on the Topping Out Ceremony (held at the site of the new hospital on the 14th September 2016)

In June last year, just 15 months ago, I stood spade in hand alongside Cabinet Secretary, Shona Robison, in a big green field and said:

‘Today marks the start of one of the most significant periods in the history of public services in Dumfries and Galloway.’

We were marking a significant milestone, ‘breaking the ground’ for the start of construction of the new District General Hospital (ground works to prepare the site for construction had started in March, just days after Financial Close). I went on to say that we expected it to be delivered on time, on budget and built to the highest standards.

Decent progress on that front I think.

The decision to invest in a new hospital was taken well before that date, indeed before my time as Chairman, and a huge amount of work was put in examining different business and financial options before a final business case was approved in partnership with the Scottish Government in June 2013.

Our corporate team, under the leadership of Jeff Ace the Chief Executive, had complex overlapping work streams to manage, that I could simply categorise under technical, financial, legal and commercial, to get us up to and beyond financial close.

There was however nothing simple about it. I know from my own experience how professionally challenging all of this is.

I take this opportunity to say to Jeff that the leadership demonstrated in delivering on this vision through clear direction, the creation and motivation of a top team, and importantly the confidence to let them get on and do what they are best left to do is outstanding.


Turning now to that top team, Chief Operating Officer, Julie White who is the Project Executive and Katy Lewis our Finance Director  have taken this project forward at the same time as doing their day jobs, and also in tandem with Executive roles on our newly established Health and Social Care Integrated Joint Board.  Both are held in the highest regard locally and nationally and we are rightly proud of them. 

It is also right I think to acknowledge the contributions made by the previous Board under the Chairmanship of my predecessor, Andrew Johnston, who I was delighted could join us at the Topping Out Ceremony.

We see so many examples, in all walks of life, of the negative effects of short termism, and it is really uplifting to see that in Dumfries and Galloway once again we can, and do make strategic decisions for the longer term benefit of the people of our region in the knowledge that these projects will probably be completed after our individual terms of office.

There were many important decisions to make and history will clearly show the foresight and resolve of the Board in providing this region with a health care service to be proud of, and one that stands comparison with best of the rest.

This 344 bed acute facility, which includes;  a combined assessment unit, theatres complex, critical care unit and out patients department has been designed, in collaboration with clinicians and patients, adopting new models of care and utilising cutting edge technologies.

All directed towards providing patients with the highest standards of care, and providing our staff with the highest quality working environment.

We required additional community benefits to be delivered through the project, and High Wood Health, in conjunction with construction partner Laing O’Rourke, have more than delivered on their commitment to provide opportunities for local people and businesses. They have exceeded targets set to employ local people, provide apprenticeships, graduate placements and opportunities for small and medium enterprises to tender for contracts.

I was an ex apprentice myself and really value that route through to a lifetimes work.

This project will deliver not only a first class health facility but also a lasting legacy through jobs creation and skills development.

It is also important that I acknowledge the small army of our own staff who, in addition to the day job, are working in 16 or more specialisms and in dynamic teams under the Change Programme that is being skilfully led by John Knox, which I must say impresses me greatly.

John and his team are working to ensure the high quality services delivered at DGRI migrate as seamlessly as possible to our new District General Hospital later in 2017, incorporating amongst other things the most modern technology solutions.

I understand that Graham Gault and his IT team have digitised some 50 million patient records, which if that was the only project we were taking forward would be a huge undertaking in itself.

We have grasped with both hands, the once in a generation opportunity, to examine every aspect of the way we organise our acute workload and our new approaches are being designed very much around our model of Health and Social Care Integration.

Our new hospital may be located in Dumfries but it is central to the decentralised and localised model of care that we are developing across the region.

So in closing, I am absolutely confident that by December 2017 we will have not only the finest District General Hospital imaginable but also a huge number of staff whose work experience has been enriched by their involvement in this project.

Philip N Jones is Chairman of the Board at NHS Dumfries and Galloway 

September 2016

Island reflections by Heather Currie

Holidays are for fun, relaxation, recharging the batteries, catching up, all things good. But holidays also give time to think and reflect and often holiday situations trigger a thought which may have relevance to a work situation. I think that’s ok, I don’t think I’m pathologically workaholic. I enjoy having time to reflect, whether that be on holiday or other.

heather-jettyA recent holiday in the beautiful west coast, triggered reflection on how we respond to patient’s needs, and perhaps how we could do better.

On the west coast of Mull is a ferry which goes to the tiny island of Ulva. While waiting to take a boat trip out to the Treshnish Isles (home of a huge colony of wonderful puffins), I noticed the sign indicating how to summon the ferry. No regular routine service, just a board with a moveable cover. Move the cover, red board shows, ferryman on Ulva sees red board, ferry sets out. Simples.. Ferry there when needed and when summoned. Receptive and responsive. It made me think whether or not we are receptive and responsive to our patients’ needs and what about the needs of the relatives?  A few examples make me think perhaps not enough?


In recent times my mother in law sadly suffered from a stroke and was in an acute hospital for several months before being transferred to a Rehab unit and subsequently a nursing home. Being a patient is always a humbling and learning experience, as is being a relative and visitor of a patient. On one visit I was concerned that her finger nails were quite long and dirty. “Mum” could not speak at this stage but since she was always very particular about her appearance, I knew that this would cause her distress and asked the nurse in charge if it was at all possible, please please, thank-you so much…(it felt like asking for anything was a major challenge) could her nails be cut. To my surprise and disappointment, I was told that this was not possible since only two nurses on the ward had had the “training” and when they were on duty it was unlikely that they would have time. Receptive and responsive or too rigidly bound up in rules and protocols of questionable evidence base that basic needs are not met? Thereafter we took it upon ourselves to cut the nails ourselves!

I was very reassured on return to DGRI that this would not happen here and strongly believe that we are more receptive and responsive, but could we do better?

Recently, one of our gynaecology patients who had been diagnosed with a terminal condition was moved between wards four times as her condition deteriorated. As long as her medical and nursing needs were being met, was it fair on her at this sad stage to have so many moves? Did we really think about what was best for her and her family and were we receptive to their needs?

In outpatients, how often do we ask patients to return for a “routine” appointment when they may not need to be seen in six months time, but have problems at a later date? Could we instead be able to respond to their needs and see them or even make telephone contact when really needed?

An elderly gentleman understandably complained because he spent a whole day travelling from the west of the region to Dumfries by patient transport, for a ten minute outpatient appointment to be given the result of a scan. In his own words, “he was not told anything that could not have been told by telephone”.

What routine investigations do we carry out that are of limited clinical benefit, often subjecting patients to yet further unnecessary investigations because of slight irrelevant abnormalities?

When questioning our practice, let’s also be prepared to be curious about that of others in hospitals to which we refer—recently a patient was referred to Glasgow for a gynaecological procedure. The procedure went well but the patient subsequently contacted me concerned that she had been asked to return to Glasgow for a follow up discussion. She wondered if a phone call would be possible in view of the huge inconvenience that this appointment would cause. I wrote to the consultant and asked if this would be possible. His rapid response was enlightening and reassuring: he had always brought patients back to a clinic as routine practice and never considered an alternative. He promised that from then on he would offer all such patients a telephone follow up instead.

Let’s use common sense and be prepared to challenge and bend the rules. Remember the ferry. While we do not have a “ferryman” waiting to respond at all times, we could consider the 4 “Rs”and be –

Responsive not Rigid,

Receptive not Routine.

Heather Currie is an Associate Specialist Gynaecologist and Clinical Director for Women and Sexual Health at NHS Dumfries & Galloway 








Speaking out: A Student’s Perspective by Ren Forteath

I was recently asked to speak at a conference organised by our consultant midwife on the topic of Person Centred Care. She wanted to hear thoughts on the topic of ‘Speaking Out’ from a variety of perspectives and asked me as a midwifery student on placement. I was delighted to be asked to present, perhaps the first indication that speaking out may not be something I find overly daunting! Having a background in amateur dramatics gives me an advantage when it comes to assessed presentations or even leading parentcraft classes when on community placement. The same could not be said of everyone in my class. Even approaching the end of our final year, many of my peers quake with nerves when asked to give a presentation. This fact caused me to consider ‘speaking out’ not only from my point of view, but from that of other students who might be younger and less outgoing than myself. (As a mature student I have quite a few years on some of my class!) The topic encompasses a variety of scenarios, and I tried to think of personal experiences that illustrated my feelings.

On a shift to shift basis we speak to women we care for, other students, midwives and doctors – and sometimes that is no less nerve racking than giving a presentation! Naturally as we progress through our course we become more confident, we gain more knowledge and our comfort zone broadens. But inside there is always a kernel of fear that we’ll say the wrong thing – or not say the right thing. Personally, I’ve had a couple of experiences that spring to mind.

In first year I was with a woman who had written in her birth plan that if things didn’t go as expected and she needed help, she would rather have a kiwi delivery than forceps. I thought no more about it until we reached that point. The reg was called in to do an assisted delivery – and he immediately went for forceps. The woman was fairly out of it on diamorphine and becoming distressed. She couldn’t speak up for herself.  So, I swallowed my fear, took a deep breath and said…’eep’. Then I took another deep breath and said “Doctor, um , she’d really prefer the kiwi, if you don’t mind, please, thank you very much”.  And he did it! She got her kiwi delivery and she was so happy. And I was absolutely on top of this world! It was so exhilarating. I had been an advocate for my woman. I had spoken up to a doctor – and he hadn’t bitten my head off! And then second year happened.

I was on shift and we heard an emergency buzzer, so we all ran to room 7: and it was a shoulder dystocia skills drill. Well, really, what were we expecting? There was only one woman in labour that day and she was in room 3! So one person took charge and started working through the HELPERR mnemonic and I thought “hey, I remember this, I know this stuff”. Then the consultant walked in, made a quick assessment of the situation and said “O.K. with a little fundal pressure, I think we can get this baby delivered.” Everyone else just looked at each other and I was thinking “that’s not right  – I know that’s not right – it’s suprapubic pressure.” And then someone suggested doing exactly that but the consultant said again “Come on now,  a bit of fundal pressure! Please, will someone put their hand on the fundus?” And I thought “it’s not right, is it?” And as if of its own accord, my hand started to move. Well, his voice was just so hypnotically consultanty. Then my mentor shot me such a daggers glance that, seriously, if looks could kill, that midwife would be in prison today! My hand shot back down, but not before at least two other people had seen it. So that sparked a useful discussion on listening to your inner voice and always speaking up, diplomatically, if your knowledge of evidence based practice tells you something is wrong. It also sparked a debate on whether it’s appropriate to use ‘making the student feel like a prize turnip’ as a teaching technique. And I wished the floor would open up and swallow me whole.

And now I’m in third year. There is light at the end of the tunnel and I’m beginning to believe it is not an oncoming train. I still have a lot to learn but I’m really starting to feel like part of the team. I suggest things and people listen. I coach women through fear and panic to relief and joy. I hold my own.

A large part of how easy or difficult it is to speak out is the people you are surrounded by. In my clinical area we have great teams, both in hospital and on the community. My classmates who have been here on rural placement always say how much they enjoy it; the working environment, the attitude, the team. People are encouraging, patient, willing to listen and keen to teach. They are inclusive and welcoming. I have rarely been berated for starting to do something the way I was shown at Uni rather than the way the midwife I was working with that day would normally do it. Not never, unfortunately, but rarely and never by a mentor.

Having my student placements there has made my own experience a hugely positive one and has equipped me to find my voice and to know how and when to use it. I know that many in my class feel the same way about their mentors in their own areas. Speaking up and speaking out are still not always easy…. but we’re learning, and as we complete our degree programmes and step out into the wards as shiny new midwives, we will find the strength to speak for our women, and for ourselves.

  • Trust your learning – if your evidence base tells you it isn’t right, say something (even to a consultant)
  • You are her advocate – if she can’t speak for herself, it’s your job to speak for her
  • Be diplomatic – just because you need to say it, that doesn’t mean you have to upset anyone
  • Find your voice – you can have a positive impact by saying the right thing at the right time

Ren Forteath is a Student Midwife

Do you want free dental treatment? by Kim Jakobsen

#hellomynameis Kim and I am encouraging the people of Dumfries to consider self referral to a dental student at Dumfries Dental Centre for free dental treatment.

There has been a dramatic improvement in access to NHS dental care in the region over the last 6-8 years. The Dumfries Dental Centre opened January 2008 to provide an outreach / training programme for student dentists and student dental therapists, aimed at supporting the future growth of these professionals across Scotland, while continuing to provide secondary care dental services, emergency dental services and routine NHS dental services which moved from Nithbank. The plan was to provide additional access to NHS dental registration at the centre, but on opening, access to Independent Dental Contractor practices for NHS dental registration had increased. Following a review of the Health Board’s managed dental service, recognising the increased access available for patients to NHS dental registration, routine NHS dental services at Dumfries Dental Centre were withdrawn in 2015.

With the goal of improving oral health while modernising dental care, prevention has played a key role in the dental care being provided by dental professionals for some time. This means that patients who are registered and regularly seeing a dentist, dental therapist, dental hygienist or extended duty dental nurse are getting orally fit.

This combination of increased access to NHS dental registration and patients getting orally fit is great news but it does mean finding suitable patients who require routine treatment to support our dental student outreach programme is becoming more challenging each year.


image2Outreach programme aims

David J. Watson, Senior Clinical University Teacher at Glasgow Dental Hospital and School explains that ‘The Outreach experience is intended to enable the student who has already attained basic competence in a range of areas to grasp the concept of the provision of holistic oral health care in the primary care setting and to gain an appreciation of integrated multisectoral involvement in health care delivery. The aim of the entire experience is to aid transition from the dental school to the practice environment by replicating the primary care experience as closely as possible.’

Who makes a suitable patient?

A broad base of patients with differing needs is desirable for the Outreach programme. Patients receiving emergency dental care provision and who are unregistered with a GDP may happily return for a course of treatment. Patients who self-refer can be screened for suitability at the initial examination, as can other healthcare professional referrals.’

Please note the following;

Appointments can last 1-2 hours and sometimes a bit longer.
Patients won’t always be able to see the same dental student, as they attend Dumfries Dental Centre from Glasgow Dental Hospital and School one week at a time.
Patients should have realistic treatment expectations.
Patients who are, for example, extremely nervous of dental treatment or requiring specialist intervention should be suitably referred.
Patients with special care requirements would be assessed for their ability to cope with routine dental care.
Patients with health preclusions would not be excluded automatically unless they would impede routine treatment provision or necessitate specialist intervention.

How and where do we find patients for our students?

The answer is from You. Please spread the word about our student dental outreach programme. Come and see us for yourself if you are unsure about us and/or happy to refer people to us. The facilities at the Dumfries Dental Centre are quite something. The staff and the students are all friendly and good at what they do; believe me they get lots of praise from their patients.

Are you interested yet?  I really hope you are.

Further information and self referral application form is available at:

In summary;

Dumfries Dental Centre has a student dental outreach programme operating August to May.
The student dental outreach programme needs dental patients requiring routine dental treatment; this could be you, your family, a friend, your neighbour or a member of the public that you come into contact with.
Student dentists are in their final fifth year of studies.
Student dentists are supervised which includes their work being checked.
If accepted to the programme, treatment is free from a student.

Kim Jakobsen is Dental Services Manager for the Public Dental Service

Clinical Efficiency by Ewan Bell

In a previous blog (“Prioritisation in NHS Scotland” – November 2015), I opined that ‘we can’t continue to provide the current range of interventions and services, if we want a sustainable NHS for the future.’ In other words we really need ‘to start debating and defining the essentials of health-care and what can we pull back from’. I had numerous comments and emails from colleagues; the majority supportive of my view. Since then there have been several blogs, including Chris Isles (“Time to Prepare for our new Hospital” – December 2015), Catherine Calderwood (“A Message from the CMO” – February 2016) and Anne Marshall (“Rights without Responsibility – Where are we Going?” – August 2016). These, in some way, have all informed that debate.

Chris believes ‘that the 5th largest economy in the world could afford to provide high quality emergency care as well as batteries for hearing aids and palliative chemotherapy for the frail elderly (if that is what they really want), but if I am wrong then surely the batteries and the chemo must go’.

I think he is wrong and here’s why. Year on year from 1997 to 2013, the UK has spent more and more on healthcare. Below is the most up-to-date data I could find from the Office of National Statistics.


Currently (2016-17) the UK spends approximately 18% of its overall budget on healthcare – about £143 billion (total UK expenditure is £784 billion). If our answer to the increasing demand on our current health service is to keep increasing the amount of money that we spend on it by the same factor (x2.97) every 16 years, then by 2033 we’ll be spending approximately 52% of our country’s overall budget on the NHS, squeezing out spending on education, pensions, social security and defence. Now I know that Economists will laugh at the simplicity of this argument (fair cop I say) as I haven’t taken into account rising GDP (if it does post-Brexit), but my point is that there is never going to be enough financial resource in the NHS to meet an ever increasing demand (and nor has there ever been).

The recent Chief Medical Officer’s Annual report ‘Realistic Medicine’ and the National Clinical Strategy (NCS) 2016 raise several fundamental questions, which include:

How can we further reduce the burden and harm that patient’s experience from over-investigation and over-treatment?
How can we reduce unwarranted variation in clinical practice to achieve optimal outcomes for patients?
How can we ensure value for public money and prevent waste?

The context to these questions is described in the NCS:

“Value-based healthcare is an established approach to improving healthcare systems across the world – the central argument is that higher value healthcare is not necessarily provided by higher inputs. What matters more is that care is provided early in disease to prevent progression (avoiding the added patient burden of more intensive interventions), it is provided safely to avoid harm, it is proportionate to the patient’s needs (avoiding the waste of providing outcomes that are not relevant to the patient), it is provided consistently and reliably (avoiding unwarranted variation).”

“Over-treatment, wasteful treatment and variation is a broad subject, and an important one. It is important that it is addressed in Scotland so that we can be more confident that the use of resources is targeted to producing outcomes that matter to patients.”

So the national conversation has started. How do we ensure value for public money? And how can we be more confident that the use of resources is targeted to producing outcomes that matter to patients?

Do we systematically, and with rigour, evaluate and rank the clinical value of new drugs, new devices, new clinical guidelines or new procedures? No we don’t, but we should and if we are going to invest in a new intervention with significant clinical value, how are we going to afford it?

Part of the solution might be for each of us to start looking at our own clinical practice in terms of over-treatment, wasteful treatment and variation. Does our rate of intervention vary significantly with the national mean, and if so, is this variation warranted or unwarranted? Is there any part of our clinical practice that we do, because it’s always been done this way, but actually it really doesn’t benefit the patient?

There is already a lot of good work going on in Dumfries and Galloway looking at waste and variation. The Surgical team, led by JK Apollos and Stuart Whitelaw have recently been looking at the clinical value (there’s very little) of routinely sending sebaceous cysts and lipomas to Pathology. What about gall bladders? Heather Currie, Ranjit Thomas and Kim Heathcote and other clinicians meet regularly (the lab demand-optimisation group) to put in place measures to reduce wasteful and thoughtless laboratory requesting (do you know that the blood sciences lab processed 40,000 thyroid function tests last year)? This is not just about money. Over-requesting of lab tests can often result in the clinical pursuit of minor, insignificant abnormalities, which can lead to over-investigation of patients and on occasions harm.

There are lots of opportunities here to improve patient care and start to tackle some of the issues raised by the CMO and NCS. I have been asked to start looking at waste and unwarranted variation here in Dumfries and Galloway and hope that you will help by considering the real clinical value of all that you do and identifying clinical waste.

Ewan Bell is a Consultant Biochemist and is AMD for Clinical Efficiency