Tuesday, 29 July 2014

To make us well?

In 1948 the  World Health Organisation developed this definition  of health: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."
Who could argue with that? But how much do we invest in the whole concept of health and well-being; preferring instead to invest in fix-it models of healthcare? We know how to do this after all....or do we really? Yes healthcare helps to reduce symptoms, occasionally even affects a cure-although more likely a move 
from an acute to a chronic condition-it provides opportunities to extend quantity and hopefully quality of life and sometimes it even relieves pain and suffering. So it's important to have these drugs, therapies and treatments to improve our options and by extension our lives. But what is clear to me is that, this is not enough to enable well-being at a personal or community level.
Does it really make sense to give priority only to healthcare (and we could argue whether even that is enough) when the things that effect health are under so much pressure. When the words "housing crisis" have become common place, when we have more waged than un-waged poor, when food banks have crept into our communities in an unprecedented way; is it enough to rely on our health care system to fix it?
Health inequalities are increasing across Scotland and we see no reversal in this trend. In Glasgow alone there is 13 years difference in male life expectancy from the most wealthy compared to the least wealthy. We are an increasingly 
unequal society and there are no policies currently at UK level which will address this. 
And in spite of assumptions,  health inequalities are not inevitable; a more equal society has better health outcomes for all. But for more than a generation they 
have become our norm. An acceptance that Scotland's gift to the world is deep fried mars bars, early death from poor lifestyles our norm, a self defeating normality fed by both media and our poor self concept. But it can be different. 
 A medal haul to be proud of in Glasgow's Commonwealth games can begin that shift in self esteem. A confident nation, awake to its possibilities and ability to self determine is an important next step. The former CMO in Scotland, Sir Harry Burns expressed that an independent Scotland could also be a healthier one. I wholeheartedly agree. A nation self confident and self determining with a shift from learned helplessness and hopelessness which has literally seeped into our DNA ; to be one of energy, confidence, compassion and collaboration to create a better nation for all is also a nation to be proud of.
But let's not rely only on the transfer of power from London to Edinburgh alone 
but remember too the message from the disability movement -nothing about us, without us -and ensure that applies at all levels in communities and for individuals. That's how health and wellbeing flourishes in ourselves and in our communities.
Reasons to be cheerful.
Thank you to the super athletes in Glasgow for inspiring a nation and a generation not only to be active and fit but also to remind us that we can achieve great things with the right support and determination. Let's use that knowledge wisely. Someone asked recently what the game changer would be in 
the referendum, I replied it would be confidence to believe we can be capable of 
more. I suspect that day has come and it's now we will see our health and well-being improve as we realise our whole potential.
I would urge you to listen to this version of Caledonia, by The Libations. The profit from every download will support food banks in Scotland. A worthy cause but even more importantly let's work for a time when they aren't needed, when wellbeing is the experience for all of us. 

Friday, 25 July 2014

A warm smile to welcome and a sad goodbye

I haven't taken any photos of the mountains since I have arrived this time. Other distractions of family to photograph instead, maybe. But tonight they are spectacular with light and cloud dramatic and moody. I can hear the sheep bells, being taken out now that the day is cooling. 
We heard yesterday that the lovely Jacko is no more. Our undstanding of bulgarian does not lend itself to the complexities of the cause but we will never again see his smiling face welcoming us when we arrive. 
These are not the pampered pooches of home, their lives not protected by vaccines and vets I suspect. So it's a sad goodbye to Jacko, we will miss him. There is something special about the touch and the love of an animal that brings a sense of joy and comfort too. I have seen often that importance of a pet to an many a person. Their lives given a rythm and sense of purpose, especially when their contact with the outside world is limited. When loneliness is our fastest growing longterm condition do we take account enough of the importance of a pet in a persons life when we arrange care and support, I wonder?
There are many stories of how animals like children and music can enhance the lives of those who are hardest to reach in ordinary ways. There are many abandoned animals in rescue centres and many a heart that could be lightened if we could find a way to care for all those needs togther. Now wouldnt that be a good solution?
Here is the lovely Jacko for one last time. May your lives be lifted by such a lovely smile too.

Friday, 18 July 2014

It will last as long as there are folk to fight for it...the NHS

I grew up in the NHS, even before I left school I tested out my future career by volunteering. I was smitten from the start. That sense of community, of working for a common good and being able to make a difference some times in a small way, sometimes in a huge way. Yes it's tiring usually, stressful often, the shift-work a pain but the satisfaction a balancing point usually. But I wonder if things are balanced now?
Levels of stress, of workload, of pressure from targets and- in England at least- endless reorganisation that has no apparent value or indeed common sense at its root, are taking their toll.    
The workforce is struggling that much is evident. What is amazing in a way is how much great work is done nonetheless; day in, day out. The evidence of cost effectiveness of a national health service is plentiful, we know its not perfect but its nonetheless impressive. Its part of our psyche, part of what we are proud of as a nation; be that UK or Scotland.
As regular readers of my blog know I have had many opportunities to be grateful for the work of the NHS and indeed to challenge it to be as good as it can be. I have twice had treatment for cancer and I haven't had to "break bad" to pay for it. Haven't had to see myself be financially crippled through bills (unlike my peers in the US in particular) to protect my long-term health. Of course I have had many other impacts and some of them financial but its not from paying for healthcare. I also know I would stand at the barricades to defend the NHS and its principle of free at the point of need.
But I look at the situation in England and see the integration of healthcare being fragmented, see private companies in the business of profit moving in to improve a service we are told and I see a situation when the tax payer funded sector is starting to fund private healthcare sector who are accountable to shareholders and not those who pay for it and I wonder where will this end? As it slowly shifts to private sector delivery, what is the logical next step in England?
I notice in myself a tendency to cross my fingers that this could never happen in Scotland. Health after all is devolved. And we have given commitment in Scotland to staying with a model of collaboration, of integration, of ensuring the voice of lived experience helps to shape not only the person-centred one to one care but also the service improvement. I applaud this and like to think I , along with many others have helped to influence this. And we see the positive impact of investing in self-management, of the reality of how involving people truly shapes policy and practice in a person-centred way, unencumbered by reorganisation, that is at best a distraction, at worst decimates a service that was previously successful.
How fragile is this approach however although it currently has collective support, a policy we sign up to and are still admittedly finding our way with. But as policy elsewhere in the UK shifts and changes how much does that create a tension that is unsustainable? How much does that shifting budget, between public and private, impact on how Scotland's budget is allocated over time? The budget then becoming the driver of a policy we don't want?
The political discussion around the referendum in Scotland has only recently shifted to focus on the NHS. And at first I was probably guilty of complacency. The policy here is so different, cross party consensus in health is fairly solid in most part but as I have looked at the question of divergence and budgets, my concern has grown.
I heard it said recently that so many in Scotland are "aff their sofas" and engaged in this vital constitutional debate. What I would urge us all across the UK to do is get "aff" our collective sofas and join in the battle for our NHS. Let's not be guilty of only realising what we had after we have lost it. But equally we shouldn't worship at its temple, more importantly we need to help it evolve, improve and be truly responsive in partnership with those it serves. Maybe we all need to be willing to properly invest in it too. And finally to ensure that those who govern are properly accountable to us for our health service and not impose policy that we didn't vote for and don't want; whatever our nation is now and in the future. 

Reasons to be cheerful: the sun is shining and I have worked with some super people this past few weeks. Not least in my first experience as a speaker for Women for Independence. I loved the engagement of the audience and the passion of those with a vision for a more socially equal and just society. It's inspiring to be part of this movement for change.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Are you living in the now?..a poem for a Friday

I heard this poem read out last night and thought it was a great one to share. What would I do if I could live my life again, I wonder?.......

Moments by Jorge Luis Borges

If I could live again my life,
In the next – I’ll try,
- to make more mistakes,
I won’t try to be so perfect,
I’ll be more relaxed,
I’ll be more full – than I am now,
In fact, I’ll take fewer things seriously,
I’ll be less hygienic,
I’ll take more risks,
I’ll take more trips,
I’ll watch more sunsets,
I’ll climb more mountains,
I’ll swim more rivers,
I’ll go to more places – I’ve never been,
I’ll eat more ice creams and less (lime) beans,
I’ll have more real problems – and less imaginary ones,
I was one of those people who live
prudent and prolific lives -
each minute of his life,
Of course that I had moments of joy – but,
if I could go back I’ll try to have only good moments,
If you don’t know – that’s what life is made of,
Don’t lose the now!
I was one of those who never goes anywhere
without a thermometer,
without a hot-water bottle,
and without an umbrella and without a parachute,
If I could live again – I will travel light,
If I could live again – I’ll try to work bare feet
at the beginning of spring till the end of autumn,
I’ll ride more carts,
I’ll watch more sunrises and play with more children,
If I have the life to live – but now I am 85,
- and I know that I am dying …

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Power in the right hands....

I have noticed that of late I have had a tendency to look at less mainstream media, trusting more the authentic voice that I read in a range of social media. I know it's often from one perspective or another but it's honestly so, it's a viewpoint I can opt to take or not, to sharpen my understanding. I don't read rants from choice so it's the measured pieces I seek out, the thoughtful, and the questioning. I'm not saying mainstream media never contains  those but it does feel like you do have to search for them. Like others I have felt frustrated by the lack of balance in the media-at this time in Scotland in particular -but this week has taken the prize for hypocrisy.
It's  because this was the week where Andy Coulson was found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones. As this case and others have unfolded the widespread nature of this has become clear to all of us. So far so obvious....but what really tipped me from curiosity, alarm and concern to downright disgust was its also the same week Rolf Harris was finally found guilty of abuse across decades, of children.
It was the point when I thought, does anyone ever tell the truth? And when people actually do tell the truth, is it only when it's a convenient one do we really listen? Those children and women who were abused and spoke their truth were ignored until now. And many said nothing ( as is the norm in such circumstance,even when the perpetrator isn't a "national treasure"). It's  because they already knew that the power differential meant they would be at best ignored, at worst judged harshly for daring to besmirch a "good" name. Of course a false accusation would be terrible but I can only begin to imagine the pain of finding the courage to tell of being victim of such a personal, lonely and violating crime and be ignored or punished even?
This situation sits alongside a media who hacked phones, who knew which celebrity slept with whom, who got the mobile phone transcripts of the royal family, who hacked the phones of murdered children and yet Jimmy Saville went about his widespread abuse hidden and unpunished.And it takes till now until Rolf Harris is found guilty. It doesn't just beggar belief; it's evidence of whole-scale lies, deceits, protection of the powerful and abuse of trust at all levels.
We deserve better than this; the children who had their lives devastated by this abuse and many others-even at Westminster now we hear-deserve so much more than this. And what's more future generations need to be promised we will never let such an abuse of power be allowed again. We need accountable, open and transparent media and government too if this is to change. We need a more equal society in every respect. We need a society that's more questioning of and less deferential to power in all its guises to enable a healthy culture to flourish. 
But i also need to remind myself that there are good people out there, whose compassion makes a difference in the world. This photograph of a thank you note taken in Edinburgh restores my faith in the inherent goodness of people.

Reasons to be grateful.
In the same week when we celebrate the 66 birthday of the NHS I'm embarrassed to say I have used it twice. Asthma and a chest infection meant a cocktail of treatment and a resistant bacteria required a second antibiotic. By my second visit I felt grim. The young GP was excellent. He not only diagnosed me correctly, treated me appropriately, he informed and empowered me to self manage an acute medical condition; giving me confidence and trust in myself -and in him too. And what's more he was kind. Modern healthcare at its best. Not a paternalistic approach, a partnership one and through enabling me to self manage it was cost effective too. Information, trust and empowerment  in healthcare and in societies is power in the right hands....now that's worth striving for. 
Thank you all in the NHS for all you do...from a very grateful customer. Oh and can anyone reassure me? I was supposed to swallow these pills, wasn't I?