Saturday, 30 March 2013

Blue skies and thoughts on leading with heart...


This week we have stumbled into Narnia and the white witch has ensured it's ever winter. A snow flurried Holy Week. But I had a short break and the photos I took belie the temperatures. The sky is blue and you couldn't guess from them that even with several layers, a hat, a scarf and gloves I still needed to buy a snood for another layer of warmth!

But I had a lovely break , well pampered and lots of putting the world right.
( Still a way to go!). The hotel had excellent customer service, everyone from the local girl ...to the young man from Bulgaria,a credit to their organisation and countries. Its a lovely hotel in the elegant bay at St Andrews so there will be a prestige attached to a job there, but the pay won't be great and the hours are long. But the atmosphere was calm and happy and that helps in a large, complex institution like that. The customer focus was evident, good systems and training was in place, there was a good level of staff and there was respect and value between them...with a sense of fun and friendliness. Good leadership focused on the right things. NHS watch and learn was my thought....

But it can't be much fun in the NHS just now. Especially for nurses, being the target for criticism and ill thought out solutions. If we want to see the NHS perform better we need person centred solutions for team NHS as well as those they look after. Compassion is not a one way road. It will need person centred leaders to make the difference.

This week I captured this photo from twitter from the wonderful @herdyshepherd1 in the Lake District. It's seemed a fine analogy...the wise elder sheep leading the herd to safety. And she achieved it I believe, when many sheep were not so fortunate..Now sheep get bad press often but maybe there is something to learn from that lovely herdwick sheep (and anyway I loved the picture....!) Modern leadership means skills of collaboration, empathy and clarity of purpose are crucial and the best leaders also know how to lead their team with vision and heart.

On the road home from my trip away we visited the wee town of Crail. It was an azure sea looking over to The May Isle from the pottery cafe. The hens visited the gate to remind the cafe owners of their pressing need. They charmed us while we ate and after the fresh crab, the coffee was served with a piece of tablet....! Perfect end to a much needed break...I must do more of this. I realised this week just how much the transitions this last few months have depleted my energy but also how much I am enjoying my new challenges too.

Reasons to be heartful.
It's been a week of time with good friends , many laughs and much sorting the world out....and Cara on a charm offensive, especially when the fire was on! What could be better. Wishing you the same this Easter.


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Will you still need me, will you still feed me...

I realised this week that its 20 years since my Godmother died of breast cancer. She was ever a warm presence in my young life. Her ability to name each wild flower, to nurture her own garden and her aura of gentle kindness enriched my childhood in a way I will never forget.She was my Mum's good friend and one of many she has now outlived. A sad situation for her ........but she has also been luckier. She has been able to see her grandchildren thrive and make her proud, enjoy many a family celebration and find joy in her great grandchild.  And she has even in her 85 year moved to a new home and starting a fresh...life is still an adventure, even if that can be scary too.

And in  the same week the House of Lords committee have reported on our response in the UK to our aging society. We are woefully unprepared they say. We need to look at so many of our structures like housing, pensions, workplaces, care services, it effects them all. But it does strike me that we tend to see all of  this in terms of deficit; not cause for celebration but instead for concern. I wonder if this in part reflects the ageism that defines our society. That worshiping youth makes us judge longer life as a challenge to our lives as we know them rather than a blessing and a good fortune.If we re-framed it, would we see less gloom and more opportunity from this changing demographic? Would we celebrate those who enjoy longer years rather than express them as a burden?

Of course we will need to change our approach to care, to build more suitable housing, invest in pensions properly, have age appropriate cities and so on but if we see this as investment in the future it may help us find the way....positively. Language can be so telling and influential. I noticed recently a care of the elderly facility renamed as a centre for the third age. That different name already creates a different expectation and approach. And I have seen the difference that name can make. They offer a joined up service with NHS, social care and third sector working together.......and more this is done with great kindness. It does show that these approaches and alongside a culture of person centred care can enable a transformation in care for older people.

If this were the case everywhere  we would not have a society that has a care system that feels its acceptable to create a service I read of recently that suggested a visit of 15 minutes a day could meet the need of a 90 year old man. His situation means that he only sees that one carer each day and their role is to address his needs in 15 minutes and then leave him...... to his loneliness. Their contract means they cannot make contact with their clients beyond their role, or they could be sacked. I cannot imagine the price each carer has to pay personally to engage so briefly with such need, then move on swiftly. It seems cruel for all involved does it not?

But there are some innovative solutions to meeting  care needs, like the robot seal , programmed to respond to human contact and engagement. It's use with older people has led to them being more alert and engaged, which in turn has led to their carers also being able to reach them. The robots touching a deep place of contact, unlocking emotions hidden by dementia. Powerful and also ....maybe just a little scary? As a dog lover I was more drawn to the concept of dementia dogs, trained to provide support to people with dementia. Undoubtedly unlocking emotions too and providing love and care for human and dog alike. If my time comes, I'll have the dog ok?

And finally this was the week I learned that the life of one amazing young woman was lost at the age of 34. Lisa wrote a blog called Alrightit about her experience of breast cancer, diagnosed in her twenties. It's both funny and shockingly  illuminating. She also wrote a book about the experience and said it was always her ambition write one but writing it about her cancer was a bit like taking the Heathrow Express ; it got her there quicker but it cost a lot more. Indeed it did. My thoughts have been with her family and friends this week. A very stark reminder that there are many things much worse that getting older.......in particular never having had the chance.

I once read the following poem out at a conference in the Royal College of Physicians. I hoped it might reconnect some people to why they came to a caring profession. We of course need the systems, organisations and communities that support this too.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain ;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

by Emily Dickinson

Reasons to be heartful
I visited my Mum in her new home this week. Her new community is reaching out and that's so heartening. Her favourite birthday gift last month was from her grandchildren. It was a bird table. The robin, blackbirds and many others enrich her day. As you will see the dog was intrigued but happily didn't scare them off.It's my reminder that its the simple things that can lift a day, ease a pain.....and maybe we can all do that for each other at some level? And lets be grateful that we are living longer as well as keeping in our hearts  those who don't....

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Women, twitter and challenging us all to do better.

Thanks to Nancy at Nancy's Point for this great quote
Women in Kenya heading to vote this week.
Its been a week when I have seen the impact of some really special women.  But it didn't start well from that perspective. I noticed a flurry of activity about a fundraiser on twitter that had the hashtag of #hundredhooters. Now I have deleted most of my rant as I know at heart it is well intended so I will just say, please , please think about all the issues that have been raised this week around international women's day.

Women across the world are a long way from experiencing equality and this kind of activity is not empowering ...just demeaning. So long as women think this is ok then how can we expect issues of women's place in society to be taken seriously.  I was shocked to learn  that women from across the world aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria combined. It's down to us  to do everything we can to tackle this. We need to demonstrate that we are serious about ending violence against women and girls. And to provide better support for the survivors of abuse and challenge sexism when we encounter it.

I have joined The Woman's Room and entered my name in the list of women with experience or expertise. This was set up to challenge the BBC and other media to ensure that women's expertise is sought as well as mens. It was a news article on breast cancer that provoked this. Only men had been asked to provide their opinion. Given the gender issue and the fact that many women ,unsurprisingly , have expertise and opinions in this terrain, this -rightly in my view -provoked outrage.  So go on women join up and stop thinking I'm not good/experienced/whatever enough......just do it!http://thewomensroom.org.uk/

And in this week alone I witnessed the power of the informed female advocate in the monthly European tweet chat. Marie of @JBBC from  Dublin and I have started this very tentatively to enable women in Europe to join to discuss issues around breast cancer-#BCCEU. We have started small but already have had some great chats. This week it was on whats new in breast cancer research. I had asked a former colleague who leads the research team in Breakthrough Breast Cancer, the fab Dr Julia Wilson, if she would want to take part. She sent her first tweet the day she joined the tweet chat....a brave woman indeed. Summarise answers on genetics and dormancy in breast cancer in 140 characters and you will grasp the enormousy of the challenge. She was fantastic , communicating complex science with clarity and sensitivity to her audience. Take a bow Julia! And the questions were wide ranging from deeply personal to internationally challenging. Providing richness to the chat were the experienced and informed advocates from the US #BCSM group. They have an amazing chat every Tuesday evening but its 2 am our time so aside from reading the transcripts it's hard to take part from here. But join if you can, it's influence and information is impressive.

I do LOVE the way twitter connected this community of interest who not only were engaging their intellects on this complex disease but also their compassion for each other. When an exchange happened that spoke of the possibility of exploring tissue banks for metastatic disease I got goose bumps....in this way the future could change. Perhaps not necessarily through that particular idea but in the exchange of experience and drive for change. And it was Julia who summed it up for us all when she said towards the end "keep challenging, keep asking us to do better...we can end this devastating disease". If you have an interest and want to read the transcript here it is. And we will be asking Julia back!
http://www.symplur.com/healthcare-hashtags/bcceu/

And finally and in my reasons to be heartful this week, I want to acknowledge the other great women in my life. My Mum, my sister, my daughter and step daughter, step granddaughters, my sister in law, my nieces and friends of all ages. You all make my life richer. Just imagine if the world could truly embrace all that you as women have to offer what a richer, better place it would be. So in a week that has International women's day and Mother's Day...step forward all and take a bow, you are fantastic, thank you.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Doing my bit for the baby boomers?

 
I was walking along in the winter sunshine the other day when I took a call about my request to take my pension early. I decided to do this to act as a security should I need more treatment for cancer in the future , to act as an income buffer for me if I was unable to work. Not what I plan you understand , nor what the risks would suggest but no guarantees either so it made sense.  They had good news for me, was the message. Because of my reduced life expectancy I would get a bigger annual sum. Now it's meagre so any enhancement is frankly welcome. But having your reduced life expectancy confirmed whilst walking along Princes St is a bit of a blow. Clearly my plan is to take the money and,  if not run, just walk away with my head up all the while planning to prove them wrong!

With this backdrop I considered the recent awareness raising with regard to changing demographics and the impact on health and social care. I personally may buck the trend but in the main my baby boomer generation will live long lives and in time need care and support sensitive to their situations and likely complex health needs. We won't  present neatly with a cancer or heart disease or arthritis, we will have maybe a history of all three with the complexity of living on our own and less people to act as formal or informal carers. The Queen or King of future times will have a sore wrist writing those telegrams to celebrate those getting to 100 and beyond and care homes will resonate to the sound of the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac rather than Vera Lynn! Clearly there is much to celebrate in this if it heralds a healthy third age where our wisdom is sought, our contribution to society still valued , our communities engaged and supportive.

But at some point the dependency ratio will tip so much that we have to recognise that our current approach to health and social care won't cut it. And what's of real interest to me is what that realisation will result in.  We do have the opportunity now to influence it. To fully embrace the person as a full partner in their care, to work with their assets, to enable the person and relationships to be key and recognise that through this improved health and  effective services will emerge.

Of course it takes courage to change, it can be messy, targets might get missed or need changed, mistakes will happen but progress from that can emerge. Services that join and connect around people are efficient and empowering for all but to be achieved people will need to give up their pasts and work flexibly into their futures. That will be uncomfortable but what's our alternative? I have oft heard politicians say that in health and social  there is much agreement across parties. I have seen this to be true at least in private. Whatever government is the hue they are going to have huge demographic challenges and it will need our collective will, courage and collaboration to enable success. So feel free to thank me for doing my bit, being a baby boomer who may not boom as long......the rest of them/us are going to challenge the system in all respects and it will need to be responsive to that.

Reasons to be cheerful!
This week I finalised my new website. The design is by the fabulous young Scottish designer Emily Hogarth. The words have been agonised over by me and I suspect I will change it over the next months and years.  Describing myself so roundly when frankly I even hate having my photo taken, is really hard. So the mirror has been held up in many different ways this week. And not only do I describe myself as a baby boomer I am also a coach who just loves working with others and a creative consultant who brings curiosity and connection to her work. And I may be doing my bit to bring down the life expectancy but I am really enjoying my latest part of the story.