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:


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.


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.


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 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

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


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”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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