Cathy’s Journey by Amy Conley

van gogh

Friday night, admissions unit is where we first met Cathy……

I say met; we heard her before we met her – Cathy was shouting out, incoherent, clearly agitated. In her room, we found a tiny lady lost in a huge nightie, scrunched up on the bed, clinging onto the bedrail.  Cathy was 95, frightened and distressed.

Cathy had been transferred from another hospital, for assessment of pain.  It was impossible to know if Cathy was in pain or not – she couldn’t tell us.

We looked at her notes…

With a diagnosis of dementia and arthritis, Cathy had been living fairly independently with carer support, hadn’t been in hospital for some years.

A few weeks before, carers worried that Cathy may have fallen, an ambulance was called.  Cathy went to ED – no broken bones, but concern that Cathy couldn’t mobilise safely resulted in admission.

Over the next 6 weeks, Cathy was moved seven times between three different hospitals, from community to acute and back; staff worried about pain, falls and possible injuries, worried they were missing something, worried that more tests were needed…

Over this time, staff reported increasing difficulty with Cathy’s behaviours and confusion; she was distressed, agitated and uncooperative. Other patients were frightened.  Staff felt unable to manage.  Cathy was prescribed sedation.

Cathy by now was very confused, unable to communicate what she needed, not eating, not drinking.  She had become incontinent.

Back to Friday night…….

The sight of Cathy was heart-breaking; crying out, unable to tell us why, unable to understand what we were doing. She was dehydrated, in pain and encumbered by various medical contraptions.

We talked to Cathy’s family.  We decided that Cathy didn’t need any more interventions or hospital moves.  We did our best and made her comfortable.

Cathy died six days later…


Cathy, like many people admitted to hospital, was frail; she was frail before she came to hospital that first time.

If we had recognised her frailty at the hospital’s front door and intervened, well, perhaps Cathy’s story might have been different – different conversations, different interventions, different decisions and different plans made.

We talk a lot about frailty but it’s not always easy to explain or to understand.  Frailty is one of those words that get bandied about but what do we mean when we call someone frail?

The dictionary definition is “the condition of being weak and delicate”, something we all feel at times, but not really helpful in identifying frailty in our patients.

Within medicine, after years of vagueness and uncertainty, we have defined frailty as “the reduced ability to withstand illness without loss of function”.


A minor illness or injury, that would be no more than troublesome to you or I, affects a frail person more profoundly, leaving them struggling to walk, to wash or to dress, to eat or to communicate.

In reality though, how do we recognise the frail patient?  Does it matter?  Does it make any difference?

Age alone does not make people frail – people don’t become frail simply because they live too long.  Frailty doesn’t come with a diagnostic test, but there are signs we can look for – older people, with cognitive problems, mobility problems or functional problems, people on many medications or who live in care homes.  People who present to us with falls, incontinence or confusion.

“Frailty is everyone’s business”

The population is getting older and frailer, particularly here in Dumfries and Galloway.

Older, frail people have higher demands on health and social care services and more unplanned hospital admissions.  Once admitted, frail people are more susceptible to hospital-acquired infections, delirium, nutritional problems, falls and skincare issues.

In comparison to other patients, frail elderly patients are more likely to have prolonged hospital stays, to lose their mobility and functional abilities; they are more likely to be admitted to residential care, more likely to die.

I am a geriatrician.  I’m not at the glamorous end of medicine and I don’t have a bag full of fancy equipment, tests and treatments.  But within our medical specialty, we do have one intervention that has been shown to improve outcomes for the frail elderly –Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment

CGA means that frail older people are much more likely to be well and living at home 12 months after admission, and much less likely to be admitted to care homes or to die within those twelve months.

CGA is a multidisciplinary assessment of a patient and their physical, psychological and functional needs.  It allows us to develop a personalised, holistic and integrated plan for that patient’s care, now and in the future.  We think about how patients walk, talk, eat, drink, see, hear, think, remember, socialise, mobilise, and take their medications.  We think about how we can make all of those things better and easier for frail elderly people and their carers and families.

We all need to understand and recognise frailty.  Think about it, see it and talk about it, and allow a person’s frailty to influence decisions for their care and future.

Over 18 months we are working collaboratively with other health boards and Health Improvement Scotland to improve recognition of frailty at the front door.

Hopefully, if we get it right we can influence a better outcome, one that recognises and considers the specialist needs of our frail elderly people, one that supports them to continue to live happily and safely in a place that they can call home…


“We’ve put more effort into helping folks reach old age than into helping them enjoy it…”

Frank A. Clark, American Politician 1860-1936


If you have an interest in frailty and want more information or to become involved in our project please contact or

Amy Conley is a Consultant in Geriatric Medicine at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary.





Love Wins by Euan McLeod

Euan M 1Having returned to clinical practice after a number of years away from the NHS (not saying what number) but nonetheless a significant period I attended the corporate inductions week to prepare me for my role in the organisation.

I had thought that much would have changed but although there were a lot of things different it seemed to me that the very essence of what we did as nurses, and indeed as anyone, employed in the NHS had not changed significantly in that we were all part of an organisation there to provide help and support to those in their time of need,

One thing that had developed was the formation of a set of values. The NHS Dumfries and Galloway CORE values

You may recall that the workshop to develop the CORE values was in response to the publication of the Francis enquiry into the Mid Staffs hospital, and that the aim like most health boards up and down the country was to try and create something that would help deliver higher standards of care and stop situations like Mid Staffs happening again.

What was it that went wrong? Did they not love (care/respect) the people they were looking after? Did nobody love their work enough to want to do things well? Were peoples regard for each other such that they became indifferent to their needs?

Love may apply to various kinds of regard towards other people or objects, and this aspect seemed to reflect what had happened at Mid Staffs, a lack of respect or due regard for the people entrusted to their care.

Love – it’s not a word we use often in healthcare but perhaps it’s central and underpins a lot of the other words or values we use to describe how we should be or act in the pursuit of caring for others.  In that sense I wanted to think about that word LOVE and what it might mean in the context of our main activity as deliverers of healthcare.

The title sat in my notes and in my mind for some weeks, I read the board paper on the development of the CORE values and wondered if it might mention love anywhere. Lots of care, compassion, empathy respect, dignity, etc in the body of the document, and hey right at the back in the summary of responses on positive experiences / feelings, there it was the word LOVE-maybe only 1 person had mentioned it but there it was.

Now all this talk of love may be getting some of you kinda twitched as if this was all some soppy, half baked romantic drivel, the kinda thing that people don’t talk openly about, but think just for a moment about how often you might use the word in the context of things, objects and places and not people

What do you mean when you say oh I just love going on holiday to France, Spain, The Bahamas etc or I just love Jaguar cars, or some designer shoes or handbags.

If someone asked you if you loved your job what would you say-Do you love making a difference to people’s lives?

I don’t think anyone would say no to that

Euan M 2

I looked up the Francis report and here’s what it said was the MAIN message

The Francis report is a powerful reminder that we need a renewed focus on hearing and understanding what patients are saying Ruth Thorlby, Senior Fellow, Nuffield Trust

From <>

Hearing and understanding what patients say -no problem there then easy and straightforward

The importance of that hearing and understanding aspect was highlighted in the recently published kings fund report

“Finally, participants noted that a focus on improving patient outcomes and experience was a way to further engage staff in improvement activities:

You have to build that coalition of people who want to make a difference and who want to change and at the centre of it all keep the focus absolutely on patients and never have a conversation that doesn’t involve a patient, because if you do you’re in the wrong place because that’s the only currency, the language, that staff understand. (NHS provider chief executive)”

How can we firstly HEAR what patients say and secondly how can we UNDERSTAND what they are telling us.

Into my in box comes an email from Gaping Void- Everbody’s a patient because evervbody’s a person

Here’s a link if you want to check further

Gaping void exist to develop the use of culture and art in healthcare settings and the topic that caught my eye was entitled “Everybody’s a patient because everybody’s a person”

There are two underlying truths in patient care:

All patients are, foremost, humans, and one day, we will all be patients.

When designing healthcare experiences, from waiting rooms to waiting times, we have to remember that we’re building for humans — people in pain, people grieving, and people suffering who need to feel loved.

We have to create the experiences that we, as patients, would want to go through. Because, one day, we will.

From <>

If we are able to love people we care for and hold them in a position of high regard then we will be able to hear what they say and perhaps understand, in turn Love may win over the tensions, frustrations and myriad difficulties that are part of delivering health care  and we can be part of creating experiences that are for  people knowing that perhaps one day we may be the patient

Euan M 3

Euan McLeod is a Mental Health Staff Nurse for NHS Dumfries and Galloway

The man With The Tea Trolley by Alison Wren

image1Hello! My name is Alison! I work as a Clinical Psychologist in the Clinical Health Psychology Service; the final member of the team to blog this month as part of our service promotion! Part of my role within this job is to help individuals and their families manage psychological distress caused by or maintained by physical health problems. Of course as a psychologist I do this at a professional level, but do we always need to be a psychologist to provide psychological care to those who need it?

This is the story of a man with a tea trolley; an ordinary chap who made a big difference to me at a particular moment in my life when the chips were down. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. We only met once and we don’t keep in touch. He probably doesn’t even remember me. He didn’t need to do what he did; it definitely wasn’t in his job remit and he probably bent the hospital rules.

The story starts on a Saturday afternoon several years ago when my husband unfortunately had a heart attack and was admitted to our local coronary care unit. It all came as a bit of a shock as he had none of the typical risk factors. He wasn’t overweight; he didn’t have high cholesterol, and had never smoked. He drank sensibly and walked miles every week. The event itself was fairly low key; just a burning sensation from throat to stomach followed later by an aching jaw. Symptoms so low key that he still image2went off to a football match that afternoon as planned. Twelve hours later after a trip to A&E (“just to be on the safe side”) our worst fears were confirmed. I’m happy to say that after a successful angioplasty he made a great recovery, but at the time we both pretty devastated. I was beside myself with worry. My stomach churned and my thoughts raced out of control “Was he going to die?”, “Would he have another?”

“Would he be able to stay active?”, “Would he still be able to work?”

image3I felt overwhelmed. How would I help my husband to cope if I was struggling myself? I had no one to talk to and could not voice my fears to my husband who needed me to be strong. As a Clinical Psychologist with many years experience working with people who have experienced distressing life events, I knew that my thoughts and feelings were normal but I was at a loss as to how to help myself.

The coronary unit that my husband was admitted to was located in another region in the UK and has now closed. My husband received excellent medical care, but as a worried spouse I felt alone. Nurses and doctors were busy. Visiting hours were limited (I was not permitted to stay longer than an hour). I wanted to be near my husband and to feel that others understood that we were in this together. I wanted reassurance. I wanted information. I wanted someone to ask me if I was alright. I felt that I needed looking after too.

One afternoon with all this weighing heavily on my mind, the man with the tea trolley came into my life. I had seen him before on and off during my visits serving hot drinks and biscuits to the patients. He was always cheerful and took the time to have a chat with people. He bustled passed me as I sat in the visitor’s room. I guess he must have noticed my forlorn expression through the window, because he doubled back and came into the room. What he did next was a small act of kindness that changed my day, and helped me feel a little better.

image4He simply smiled, gave me a cup of tea and said, “It’s hard isn’t it? How are you doing?”

We chatted for a short while about this and that, and he listened to me as I told him what had happened. Of course he couldn’t answer my medical questions, or give me any assurances about the future. He couldn’t really do anything as such, but he was there for me at the right moment and he seemed to understand. He knew I needed a friendly ear. I never saw him again, so I didn’t get chance to thank him. So whoever you are, thank you! That cup of tea made all the difference.

image5Dr Alison Wren is a Clinical Psychologist for the Clinical Health Psychology Team at NHS Dumfries and Galloway

How to make a good death by Justine McCuaig

My Mum died on June 6th 2017 at 11 45pm at home asleep beside my Father while he held her tight.

My overwhelming and lasting memory is of going up to offer Dad yet another cup of tea, (my family home by this time had become like a scene from Eastenders with endless tea becoming a cure all for our woes) and finding them both asleep in front of the telly, holding hands, as if it were any other night in their lives together. By this point, knowing mum was soon to leave us, I chose a whisky over tea while my sister drank Mum’s Tia Maria and we laughed at our naughtiness downstairs.

We had been caring for Mum for 4 months at home. She had been diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis a few years before and her lungs progressively stiffened up despite her objections and indignation at the condition. Everything else was in perfect working order!

Mum was very pragmatic about her diagnosis and we often talked about its progression together with and without my Father. I asked her when her condition worsened if she thought my Dad had “got it” and understood that she had terminal disease and was not going to recover. The next day I visited and she said “yes he’s got it….I sat him down and told him that I wanted buried in the garden and listed who I didn’t bloody want coming to the funeral  so you don’t need to worry about that anymore!”

Although as a family we liked our privacy from the outside world, we were not particularly shy or private people at home and regularly discussed all manner of things and shared experiences. No topics were ever out of bounds for us and I had the privilege of being raised by tolerant humanitarians with a good sense of humour and a love of dialogue, music and life. We have always been able to talk about the big things with ease, disease, mental illness, romantic woes, religion and politics but struggled with the smaller things and general displays of affection. We loved truly and where truly loved but it was unspoken generally and wrapped up with rather woolly “oh you knows”

Cuddling was not a regular thing either (for no good reason other than we didn’t really do it much) This physical distance completely disappeared when I began to nurse my Mum and provide her with regular personal care. I was more unsure about how I would feel about this than how she would feel about it even though as a nurse I was simply using the tools of my trade.  To my delight caring for Mum (and Dad) was one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever had.  The physical closeness and honesty was liberating for us both. We had so many laughs (normally about things we really shouldn’t laugh about!) Gift giving changed and although a commode wasn’t everyone’s idea of a great birthday present, my Mum loved it, especially with the balloon attached.

To be able to wash my Mum, do her hair, paint her nails all the time chatting about this and that with up to 5 grandchildren lying alongside her at “Granddads side “ was a unique shared experience which we all enjoyed up to the last week of her life. Grandchildren came and went as it suited them without obligation and new routines developed for us all which were played out wholly to our tune. Nail painting changed to pressure care and symptom control but there were no restrictions on visiting, no alien environment or hospital smells, no distance to travel, no reduction in privacy or dignity.

Just home – where the heart is, and where sitting on the bed is actively encouraged!

Of course we couldn’t do this without support. It was great that I was able to use my nurse’s tool box to be my family’s advocate, to explain things lost in translation and to explore mums options. However it was the cohesiveness of our systems, the excellent communication between teams and professionals actively hearing what the patient aspired to and facilitating those aspirations that really worked for my family and resulted in such a good death for my Mother

NHS Dumfries and Galloway has the most outstanding staff members across all disciplines. With thier input we can successfully choose our own package of care and be fully supported in that choice. Anticipatory care planning and social care integration have the potential to really transform the patient journey and is not something to be afraid of but rather to embrace.

 However all of these services need to be heavily invested in to meet the expected demand from   an aging population. Without continued investment and service development, NHS Dumfries and Galloway will not be able to fulfil this ambition and enjoy the success that my family had.

Mum was admitted to DGRI 3 months before she died as an emergency admission and was discharged from ward 7 with a complete package of palliative care and specialist community respiratory support within 32 hours.  All of her drugs and letters were ready at our agreed   discharge time, the domiciliary oxygen was arranged and delivered and referrals completed for the McMillan, Marie Curie Nursing services and Community Respiratory Specialist Care.  Her DNR was signed and she waved it under the nose of anyone who was even vaguely interested in reading it. It remained pride of place on the bedside dresser as it was very important to her that her intentions were known. Everything my Mum did was delivered with humour and even this got a comedy slant!

The Kirkcudbright District Nurses introduced themselves and ensured that their door was kept fully open for when we needed their help and support. They responded promptly to any requests and where always available at the end of the phone to discuss Mums needs as they arose. Our Specialist Respiratory Nurse visited regularly.  When Mum developed a chest infection he promptly liaised with the consultant from our dining room relaying Mums reluctance to be admitted but advocating   the need for her to receive appropriate treatment which could prevent her condition worsening. Although her condition was terminal   there were still things that could be done to minimise her symptoms and prolong the length of her wellbeing. Mum agreed that if things got rapidly worse she would potentially consider IV therapy in hospital but would initially hedge her bets with tablets, lots of tea and nebulisers. She started her antibiotics orally that afternoon and recovered and remained well   long enough to see her beloved swallows   return   from Africa to nest in the garage, enjoy the spring flowers from the garden and support the children through their exams.

The Occupational Therapist ensured Mum had all of the equipment she needed when she needed it. If a piece of kit was ordered it was generally   installed within 24 hours. The Equipment Delivery Staff ensured that we knew exactly how to use it after they had installed it and answered all questions fully and in a voice loud enough for my deaf Dad to hear! They ensured he knew who to contact in the event of any problems. Mum had everything she needed, a bath chair, a stair lift, a stand aid, a pressure bed.  Visiting relatives from the Deep South stood with mouths wide open in disbelief at the care and support my family were receiving and began to seriously consider relocation. After Mums death the equipment was collected promptly but respectfully and was almost symbolic of starting life without her.

We did need the District Nurse’s help more regularly in the days running up to her death and because they had developed a slow growing respectful relationship with my family they were welcomed in like old friends.  They encouraged me to be Justine the daughter rather than Justine the nurse which was invaluable advice. They looked after us all, and talked us through every stage or change in Mum’s condition. Most importantly Mum thought they were great and that is, of course because, they were.  She was so interested in people and life and living that she became just as invested in how they were doing as they were in her. This was especially true of the student who approached and completed her finals during mums care. She told Mum when she   successfully passed as she knew it was important to her to know despite Mums condition rendering her uncommunicative at that point.

However we all knew she was dead chuffed!

Mum received reflexology   and head and hand massage in her bedroom as part of her palliative care package which was a new experience for her and one she really appreciated. What she enjoyed as much as   the treatment was her was that she had another person to communicate with and to learn from. She loved engaging with people more than anything. It gave us all something to talk about too. Even then life remained interesting with new experiences to share.

When Mums condition deteriorated to the point of suffering the District Nurses and GP promptly began her syringe driver to minimise her symptoms. I had discussed this often and in detail when Mum asked about “what next” and she fully understood that when her symptoms were controlled this way, she would be less awake and aware. She made a very informed choice when the GP prescribed it and her consent made me feel content with that course of action. She had had enough. Any other GP may have been phased when she asked if he was “putting her down,” especially when after administering an injection she said “No, no I’ve changed my mind” with a wicked twinkle in her eye!” However Mums GP knew her well and knew that with her humour she was trying to make a difficult job easier for him.

The Marie Curie nurses would phone regularly to see if we needed help over night which was very comforting. In the end the nurses attended the family home twice. Once to administer breakthrough medication in the wee small hours on the day the syringe driver was started (all the way from Dumfries – a round trip of 60 miles) and the following night at 10pm for their inaugural sleep over. Mum died shortly before midnight that night and Dad then made the long walk to the spare bedroom to ask our guest to confirm that she had gone.  Having her there at that time was invaluable and over the next few hours we all chatted and laughed and cried while we waited for a registered nurse to certify Mums death.  The care and support we all received that night was beyond excellent . Mum stayed the night, there was no rush for her to go anywhere and we all spent time with her before she left us mid morning. Downstairs my sister and I repeatedly heard my Dad’s footsteps as he came and went into their bedroom to check that she was really gone.

And she had gone,  Mrs T had left the building. Although we were (and are) devastated we have all reflected our relief that she had suffered so little in the end and that she died where she wanted surrounded by the people she loved . Knowing this has filled our sad hearts with a warm feeling knowing we did right by her and in time this will be a great comfort to us.

Janice M 1

Justine’s Mum and Dad on Crosby Beach 

Justine McCuaig is a Health protection Nurse Specialist at NHS Dumfries and Galloway

An Occasional Visitor to Dumfries & My ‘Scottish Heritage’ by Tarik Elhadd

(This article was written in Dumfries in August 2015)

I have always been fascinated by the Trust Weekly Blog and stemming out from my connection with Dumfries, I thought of posting this reflection, hopefully it will be deemed suitable for publication.

I first came to Dumfries in spring of 2011 several months after departure from my home country, Sudan. My re-traffic to Sudan in 2009, trying to re-uproot, make a living and help my own people, was very much dashed by several factors. Making a living there was second to impossible. Back in 2007/2008 I had an offer to join a thriving health service in the area beyond the far western Canadian prairies, in British Columbia, which encompassed both academic and service domains. Coming to Dumfries was the perfect choice as the job was still vacant. I went to British Columbia a few months earlier in a fact finding mission. Part of the Canadian recruitment process entails inviting prospective candidates and their families to come and see themselves, and then make an ‘informed decision’. Following a week in ‘Prince George’ in fall 2010 we got satisfied and decided to go for it, despite that it is in the ‘end of the world’, being 13 hours flight from UK. But for us, the Sudanese, it was ‘Safe Haven’. The prospect of working and living in the ‘New World’ proved exciting. I had just turned fifty by then, and the career prospect was still rife. I began the process of joining Prince George University Hospital of North British Columbia, but to fill the 9 month gap whilst this took place I came to Dumfries to take up a locum in Diabetes and Endocrinology. One place, one hospital and then off you go to Canada. That was the dream which proved to be elusive.

At Dumfries life was very smooth. I was embraced by everybody, from within the department and from without, as one of the team. I never felt, nor was given, the feeling of being the ‘bloody locum’, who is here to do little for ‘too much money’ and then vanishing away. I was always treated with dignity and respect and always given the feeling of being ‘one of the team’. Everyone expressed love and showed gratitude to the job I was doing. This culture you won’t see or feel in other places as a locum. At Dumfries your expertise and hard work would be appreciated and valued and, despite that I was well paid for the hours I was doing, I was never eyed as a locum and stranger by anyone save one or two people.  Weeks and months and the path to relocate to British Columbia became fraught with obstacle after obstacle. It proved to be a ‘bumpy road’, and my stay at Dumfries continued, not only for nine months but it went to one and half a years.

I left Dumfries in August 2012 pursuing the elusive Canadian dream only to come back again in December 2013 when change of heart and change of fortunes forced yet a move into the opposite direction, this time eastward. The Canadian dream been burned on the altar of destiny. I was heading towards the Arabian Gulf, another safe haven for us, the beleaguered Sudanese. I was again embraced by Dumfries with the same old love, dignity and respect. Despite that my second ‘tenure’ at Dumfries was in Acute Medicine but it was equally enjoyable and blissful. Again I was never been given the feeling of the ‘other’, or the ‘stranger’. Not only that, after over ten months, I left to Qatar with an open mandate to come back at any time if ‘things did not suit me!!! Is that not wonderful and special to be given the feeling of ‘being wanted’ and in demand? Needless to say I was even approached to consider a permanent position and a substantive post.

Back to UK after spending a full working year in Qatar, and having the demand of keeping my license and my GMC registration alive and staying close to my grownups, who were staying in Cheshire, who had all re-trafficked back to UK after completing their University education in Sudan. I was welcomed back to Dumfries. It was the same old fantastic feeling. As a trainee back in the mid and late 1990s, I began my training in diabetes in Edinburgh at the old Royal Infirmary near Edinburgh Castle & the Royal Mile, and returned to Scotland again as an MRC Research Fellow at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. Not to miss out the two years spell I had in Ayrshire when the educational needs of my youngest son made a re-traffic to UK in 2007 a necessity. So out of over 20 years of my career I spend in UK, one third was in Scotland. I am proud to call it my ‘Scottish Heritage’. One third of this heritage belongs to Dumfries-shire.

Dr Tarik Elhadd is a Consultant in Diabetes and Endocrinology

Surviving and Thriving in a Time of Change by Dawn Allan

I have always been fascinated by human beings and why we are the way we are.

Does our cultural and family background influence us?

Why do some people believe in God and some don’t?

Why are some people able to talk about death and dying so easily?

Why do people focus on their weaknesses, what about their strengths?

How self aware are we?

Who are we when nobody is looking?

Having emigrated from Ayrshire to South Africa where I spent my childhood and early adult years, I discovered the down side of the school playground because I sounded different.  There were only so many times a 6 year old with an Ayrshire accent wanted to mandatory repeat the word ‘potato’ at the class bullies insistence, and then suffer his disparaging comments,

“…doesn’t she sound weird…say it [potato] again…oh, ja, you’re from ’SCOT-LAND’ hey…”!?!

I remember stifling back tears, wishing I sounded like my peers so he would leave me alone.  When I reflect on this childhood bullying memory, it is mainly laughable now and I quickly adapted by adopting a local accent to blend in.  Life nurtured resilience and I learned when it might be safe to confront a bully wisely, when to ignore them and when to ask for help.

This year I relocated from Shetland to live and work in a place, “Often described as “Scotland in Miniature,” South West Scotland’s Dumfries & Galloway region is characterised by its rich cultural heritage, stunning scenery, sweeping seascapes, towering cliffs, rolling agricultural land, and its wide, wild landscapes”.  Who wouldn’t want to live here?!?  So, what about the people?  I am pleased to say they too are fascinating, warm and welcoming.

The 2017 focus for NHS Dumfries & Galloway is the move for many staff from the current DGRI to the new hospital.  From what I am gathering, this process of change is daunting for some.  If communication is key to all that we offer and provide as health care professionals, part of the way we manage our expectations in preparing to move is to be aware of how we communicate with or about each other as individuals, departments and teams.  Having a person-centred approach should be our modus operandi – our behaviour and communication does not go un-noticed by patients and visitors.  Being a ‘relational person’, I believe our hospitality is as valuable as our clinical / social care, our administration skills or our financial targets.

If a holistic approach cares for the whole person, this includes acknowledging someone’s pain, providing them with pain relief and offering them a cup of tea – all spiritual ‘acts’.  We all deliver spiritual care, what I aim to define is that we as staff do not, ‘go Greek’ i.e. compartmentalise and separate a person into ‘bits’, i.e. age, gender, status, patient, service-user, client, spiritual, religious, physical, mental, psychological, emotional…When in physical pain, the whole of our being is affected.  Judeo-Christian views that –

  • every person is born with worth and dignity
  • every person has the ability to choose between doing good and doing wrong
  • every person has the responsibility to help others in need and the community

Whether the person we are caring for or working alongside has a belief / faith or not, they will have a ‘value system’.  I hope having a VBRP – Values Based Reflective Practice – approach will help all of us as we reflect and hopefully learn from the past in the present, to know how to continue or change best practice, including our communication.  Our motives are based on values we apply every day which will help or harm the people we care for, including ourselves.

To be a hopeful presence is how I sometimes describe my encounters with people.   When we are at our most fragile and vulnerable, we need others we can trust, who will listen with their eyes and ears, who can make us laugh, encourage us when we feel stressed, sick or lonely and offer compassion.  My confidential support includes staff – we are all at different stages in our professional roles and our personal lives.  Before anyone ever declares whether they have a belief / faith or not, it is what we have in common as human beings that is paramount.  Difference is a given, but negative overemphasis on difference marginalises people – companionship and inclusion build bridges.  Sometimes, ‘life happens’ and it is the sudden, unexpected occurrences that affect our health and relationships most.

One of my favourite authors C S Lewis reminds me that a man of such academic, creative gravitas was honestly transparent, he said, “I pray because I can’t help myself.  I pray because I’m helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping.  It doesn’t change God – it changes me.”

Rabbi Harold Kushner’s description speaks into my role, “When you cannot fix what is broken, you can help very profoundly by sitting down and helping someone cry.  A person who is suffering does not want explanation: the person wants consolation.  Not reasons, but reassurance.”

If we as individuals think we do not need each other, we are deluding ourselves.  My faith informs my professional practice, without imposing it on anyone.  If the Son of God relied on twelve disciples, who am I to say I can survive without the support and wise counsel of colleagues?  We are only human and we need each other to ensure NHS Dumfries & Galloway not only survives but thrives today and tomorrow.

Dawn Allan is Spiritual Care Lead Chaplain at NHS Dumfries and Galloway

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