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

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.

Daily Dynamic Discharge (DDD) by Patsy Pattie & Carole Morton

“Daily Dynamic Discharge is to improve the timeliness and quality of patient care by planning and synchronising the day’s activities”.
(The Scottish Government, Edinburgh 2016)

The 6 Essential Actions for improving unscheduled care was launched in 2015. The 6 actions were identified as “being fundamental to improving patient care, safety and experience for the unscheduled pathways”. One of these actions is “Patient Rather Than Bed Management”. This approach requires the multi disciplinary team working together to plan and synchronise tasks required to ensure a safe dynamic discharge process, aligning medical and therapeutic care, discharge earlier in the day and transfer back to the GP in time, reducing the length of stay in hospital.

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Why do we need it?
The recent day of Care Audit in September 2016 indicated that 30.5% of patients in hospital beds did not require acute hospital care. These patients should have been transferred to another area for continued care or discharged home.
For some health professionals, too many conflicting demands on time often results in optimising work in such a way that may seem logical to the individual, especially if you are covering across wards, but may not be optimal for patient flow. This mis-synchronisation can cause delays and increase the length of stay for patients. Where there is a clear priority of order of tasks for that day, each individual team member plays their part in ensuring the priority tasks for patients is actioned or completed, which works for the patient, thus reducing delays in discharge or transferring the patient.

Who is doing it?
Ward 10 was nominated as the Exemplar ward for DGRI and implementation commenced in early September 2016. Early indications show that time of day discharges are taking place earlier in the day around mid afternoon. Prior to the introduction of DDD 27% of patients had been discharged by 4pm, in the four weeks since implementation the figure has almost doubled to 49%.

When are we doing it?
Each DDD ward huddle usually takes place at 9am each morning. Some wards have incorporated a DDD catch up meeting into their afternoon handover huddle.

What are the benefits?
The DDD approach promotes proactive patient management for today and preparing for tomorrow’s activities i.e. increase accuracy on our discharge position and increase awareness of the need to create capacity at key points throughout the day.
This is aligned to The Royal College of Physicians acute medical care “The right person, in the right setting – first time” (please see link below).
https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0924/4392/files/acute_medical_care_final_for_web.pdf?1709961806511712341
A recent quote from Vicki Nicoll, SCN ward 10:
“DDD for us has had such a positive impact on the ward as we are finding patients are being seen by all members of the Multi Disciplinary Team (MDT) in a timelier manner.  The patients are being discussed rather than going from one weekly Multi Disciplinary Team meeting to the next.  Interventions are being done more timely from all members.  We have noticed that length of stay has reduced and patients that you would normally presume would be with us for some time seem to be getting home quicker. We recently had a patient who was a complex discharge and I personally thought the patient would have passed away in the ward, but everybody pulled together and we were able to return the patient home.  Sadly, she passed away at home, where she wanted to be with her family”.

“DDD has taken away the thought that nurses should do everything when in fact it is everyone’s job to work together to ensure that the patient is on the right pathway”.

DDD is currently being rolled out to most of the acute wards in DGRI and a test of change commenced on 21st November in Annan Community Hospital. Implementation at the Galloway Community Hospital is planned for mid December.

We all have our part to play in the planning of a safe discharge for our patients, DDD enhances our current processes, promoting an MDT approach with teams working collaboratively and more robustly.

Patsy Pattie works in the Acute Services Improvement Team and Carole Morton is an Assistant General Manager Acute Services for NHS Dumfries and Galloway

Fork Handles!!! by Helen Moores

helen-m-1“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place” George Bernard Shaw

What is the reading age of the most popular newspaper in Scotland, The Sun?

If you were to categorise it and place it on a shelf where would you put it? 8-10 yrs? 12-14? 14-16 yrs? The answer is 8 years old.

In terms of language level, vocabulary, grammar etc. The Sun is written at the same level as a school reading book for an eight year old child. According to The Literacy Trust the average reading age in Scotland is only 9 years old. This sort of information has massive implications for the way we communicate with our patients, carers, their friends and family.  If we are producing written material or talking in a way that is too technical, medical or wordy we lose, bewilder and alienate our audience whilst thinking we have been clear. It is referred to as health literacy –  the gap between what we as professionals think we have said and what our patients have actually heard or understood or are able to access. It brings to mind the confusion in the classic Two Ronnie’s sketch where a man walks into a hardware shop and asks for Fork Handles and receives 4 candles!

helen-m-2October is World Health Literacy Month and the aim is to raise awareness of this gap in communication. The Health Literacy Place is a website attached to The Knowledge Network and details the Making It Easy action plan to improve Health Literacy here in Scotland. It contains some frightening statistics:

  • 43% of English working age adults will struggle to understand the instructions to calculate a childhood paracetamol dose
  • 26% of people in Scotland have occasional difficulties with day to day reading and numeracy
  • People with lower health literacy have increased rates of emergency admissions, wait until they are sicker before visiting their GP and are less likely to engage with public health programmes eg breast screening and vaccination
  • In general people remember and understand less than half of what we discuss with them

The implications for patient experience, safety and access to services are clear. This is not just a welfare or financial obligation, but a legal one. The Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011 states that “people should be communicated with in a way that they can understand and that healthcare staff should make sure that the patient has understood the information given.” Our skill as healthcare professionals is not only to diagnose and treat but to communicate those findings in a culturally appropriate, meaningful and memorable way.

helen-m-3Here in D&G it has never been more timely for us to think about these issues as we plan our own Big Move, thinking about clear signage, systems for patient appointments, e-records etc in our new home. In addition our English neighbours in Cumbria are getting to grips with the Accessible Information Standards. These legal standards were introduced into NHS England on 31st July this year and go one step further in addressing communication needs. They stipulate that a person with a disability, impairment or sensory loss should be provided with information that they can easily read or understand with support. The Standards also state that these needs should be identified and recorded prior to a patient accessing a service.

The good news is that because of the introduction of these standards in England there are lots of resources to help us look at our practice here in Scotland. So where do we start? As a communication specialist, it’s a subject close to my heart.

If you are looking at a service audit or improvements, some handy hints include:

  • to never be without a pen and paper
  • to download a profession specific app or animated sequence for your phone or tablet
  • sit down or be at eye level for all conversations, where possible
  • order a name tag and say..”Hellomynameis…”helen-m-4
  • attend one of the specialist workshops in the Education Centre

but also…….

“Tell me your story…”

Asking this initial interview question allows you time to tune in like a radio to the person’s wavelength. By asking this I can assess fluency, coherence, intelligibility, cognitive ability, word finding skills, language level and most importantly adjust mine accordingly .. but also assess the patient’s accuracy as a historian, their interpretation of events, what they believe the doctor said, if there’s an outstanding or unresolved issue or complaint, their mood and motivation for engaging with therapy, what is important to them, their family, goals, hobbies and start to identify any hooks that I can hang my therapy on to make it personal and meaningful and therefore increase its success. Not bad for one simple question!

 

Perform the SMOG!

The simplified measure of gobbledygook – yes it’s a real thing. Created in 1969, take any piece of written material your service routinely supplies and apply the formula to calculate a reading age. If it’s higher than 9, think again. http://prevention.sph.sc.edu/tools/SMOG.pdf

 

Access The Health Literacy Place

This NES website gives some really great tailored resources for GPs and medics, AHPs and nurses including simple techniques like Teachback, but also online courses, training and templates to re-evaluate and improve your communication personally and within your service. http://www.healthliteracyplace.org.uk/media/1360/health-literacy-month-eflyer-2.pdf

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Chat to a friendly Speech & Language Therapist

But then I would say that! The Royal College has a new position paper and website to support Health Literacy or Inclusive Communication as it’s sometimes known.

And Finally……

…for a chortle and a lighter look at Health Literacy as seen from the perspective of the doctor we all love to hate, click or paste the link below…. If you can’t see it you may need to upgrade your version of Internet Explorer to 11. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zG2DVoRP86g

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Happy Friday and happy Health Literacy Month!

#healthlitmonth

Helen Moores is a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist for Adult Service & The IDEAS Team (Interventions for Dementia, Education, Assessment & Support) at NHS D&G

helen-m-7Follow us @SLT_DG

Find us at NHS D&G SLT Adult

 

Health Literacy Month logo and Health Literacy Heroes illustration are reprinted with permission of Helen Osborne, founder of Health Literacy Month

Gender Matters by Lynsey Fitzpatrick

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image5On 6th September 2016 in Lockerbie Town Hall, NHS Dumfries and Galloway and Dumfries and Galloway Council, supported by the national feminist organisation ‘Engender’, jointly hosted ‘Gender Matters’ – an opportunity, in the form of a workshop, to explore the issues surrounding gender equality.

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There were over 40 people from a range of organisations including NHS, Council, South West Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre, LGBT Plus, LGBT Youth Scotland, DG Mental Health Association, Support in Mind and Glasgow University, and also members of the public along with staff from other Health Board areas.
When I started to write this blog post, I was thinking back as to why the steering group behind the event decided to host this event in the first place. There is a plethora of evidence to back up why we need to support events of this nature, for example:

  • Women are twice as dependant on social security than men
  • In 2015 the gender pay gap in Scotland was 14.8% (comparing men’s full time average hourly earnings with women’s full time average hourly earnings)
  • Also gender pay gap in Scotland when comparing men’s full time average hourly earnings with women’s part time hourly earnings was 33.5%
  • This means, on average, women in Scotland earn £175.30 per week less than men.
  • The objectification and sexualisation of women’s bodies across media platforms is so commonplace and widely accepted that it generally fails to resonate as an equality issue and contributes to the perception that women are somehow inferior to men.
  • Femininity is often sexualised and passive whereas masculinity is defined by dominance and sometimes aggression and violence.
  • At least 85,000 women are raped each year in the UK.
  • 1 billion women in the world will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • In 2014/15, there were 59,882 incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the Police in Scotland. 79% of these incidents involved a female ‘victim’ and male perpetrator.

 

So there are plenty of reasons as to why we held this event; to challenge social gender norms, to progress thinking around changing perceptions in our homes, at work and how we confront the media (not least our legal duty under the Equality Act 2010).

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But what is it that made us so passionate about being part of this work?
image12A huge reason for me personally is that I have an (almost) 5 year old daughter. In my current post as Equality Lead for NHS D&G I have become much more aware of some of the research and facts around gender equality and often reflect on how her future is being shaped as we speak; because of the gender norms all around her, expectations from her family, her peers and her school.
I’m horrified to think that she is more likely in later life to be paid less than a male counterpart for doing the same level of work, or that her relationships and self esteem will be impacted by the stereotyping of her gender in the media.

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image29A friend and I had a discussion at one of the film screenings for “16 days of action against Gender Based Violence” which focused on the sexualisation of children from an early age. We talked in particular detail following the film about the impact the internet might have on our daughters as they grow up – the availability of porn, more opportunity to be groomed, shifting expectations of how our bodies should look and what we should be doing with them – and decided that we really wanted to do something about this, to make a difference to our daughter’s lives, and hopefully many more at the same time.
As NHS employee’s we are legally obliged to consider gender issues in everything we do. The often dreaded impact assessment process is designed to help with this. Yet at times it is seems more of a burden than a way of informing services how best to prevent discrimination and advance equality for all.

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I came across the following clip at a Close the Gap event which shows how gender mainstreaming is applicable in situations that many of us deal with on a daily basis and how this can impact on efficiency and quality of public services, benefitting not only the people who use our services, but also our key partners:

(Watch from the beginning to 3:18minutes in for a quick demonstration on how indirect gender approaches can change the way people live).
Back to the event in September: the day was split into two halves – the morning session focused on Culture and the afternoon session on Economy. The format for the day was Open Space Workshops, starting with a short presentation on each of the topics. Participants then identified topics that their group wanted to focus their discussions around. Participants were free to move around the room and join in or leave discussions as desired.
Some of the topics covered during the course of the day included:

  • Gender in the Media
    Equal pay for equal work
    Rape Culture
    Part time Work
    ‘Hidden Care’ and the economic ‘value’ of care
    Societal Norms
    Women and Sport
    Success
    Cultural Expectations
    Being non-gender specific (e.g. clothes, toys, activities)
    Women’s Only Groups
    Gender Education
    Welfare Reform

Understanding ‘double standards’
There was a real buzz in the room as each of the groups discussed their topics of interest and it was clear that participants appreciated the opportunity to discuss the issues openly, an opportunity we don’t often get.
All of the event feedback was extremely positive, and there was a real interest from participants in taking this work forward, both in the workplace setting, and in their personal lives. Some of the suggestions included the creation of a Gender Equality Network for D&G, avoiding stereotyping, creating safe spaces for women to talk openly, promoting the White Ribbon Campaign, encouraging managers to see the benefits of a work/life balance, challenging the way gender is represented and considered across society, e.g. across social media, within policies and structures. This list is by no means exhaustive of everything that was covered on the day!
I hope that having a quick read of this sh

ort blog (and hopefully a watch of the gender mainstreaming clip) will be enough to convince a few more people that gender equality really does matter.
If you are interested in being part of future discussions on gender inequality and involved in a Women’s Network then please get in touch.

Lynsey Fitzpatrick is Equality and Diversity Lead at NHS Dumfries and Galloway

“Going that extra mile” by Sharon Shaw

Patient Centred Care

Being caring and compassionate is an unique talent and sometimes sadly often gets forgotten about and falls by the wayside. We are all human beings and sometimes we all need to take a step back and grasp how valuable our lives are and that of loved ones.

I want to share my story. This is the first time I have written a blog, so please be “patient” with me.

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In November 2015 I started my new job in clinical education. I was excited and yet in a way I wanted to prove to myself and others how valuable education is in this forever changing healthcare environment.

Approximately 3 weeks into my new role, the Respiratory Team contacted me concerning a patient with a complex condition. It was a 59 year old male who had severe emphysema and required an Under Water Sealed Drain (UWSD) to try and reinflate his left lung. The damage was so severe it became evident that the UWSD could not be removed or his lung would continually, spontaneously collapse.

“IT WAS HIS LIFE LINE”.

I walked into the side room in Ward 12 to introduce myself. With hos blue eyes he gazed up at me looking slightly anxious. Giving him a good firm handshake, I smiled and said

“Hello John, my name is Sharon”

I’m a great believer in “non-verbals” as it delivers communication and initially builds upon a trusting relationship. And indeed it did as from then on it had a huge impact.

As my father always said…

“Sharon a good solid handshake goes a long way”.

John was palliative. He had not long retired and to get devastating news about his diagnosis and outcome was so sad. His ultimate wish was to get back home to spend the rest of his short life left with his beloved family.

sharon-2I made a point of seeing John everyday in Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary. It was essential to build up that relationship. During the 2 weeks I delivered education on how to care for a patient with an UWSD. Approximately 30 nurses received education, Kirkcudbright Hospital Staff, District Nurses and Rapid Response Team. As you can imagine there was a lot of anxiety, fear and uncertainty amongst the nurses. This was actually the first patient to get discharged to Kirkcudbright Hospital with a UWSD. John was fully aware of my role and was updated.

The time had come, John was ready for discharge. Understandably so, he was very anxious. I took the decision to actually go in the back of the ambulance with him to Kirkcudbright Hospital. Holding his hand and bantering away we both arrived to our destination. We were pleasantly greeted by the nursing staff. They knew John as he was a local from the town and had received care from them in the past.

His family were so supportive especially his daughter Michelle, whom I have now made a lifelong friend.

John managed to continue life for 7 months in Kirkcudbright Hospital. Unfortunately he did not get his wish to go home but in all fairness the care he received from the hospital staff made his last few months comfortable and to have that precious time with his family. He managed to celebrate his 60th birthday with his family. It was an emotional, uplifting day.

I guess what I’m trying to say folks….

“Going that extra mile” was so successful and beneficial. I would certainly do it all again.

Thanks for taking time to read this.

Sharon Shaw is Clinical Educator for NHS Dumfries and 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