Keep It Going

This month started with reflection on some key messages of NHS Scotland 2014 and will end with consideration of the event’s main theme: the challenge of sustaining and spreading good and innovative practice. How can we make others aware of the work we are doing to improve our services and ensure that good things are not just happening in isolated pockets within this huge organisation that is our national health service?

There are many ways in which we can promote our work but they do require that wee bit of effort. Thinking differently about a practice development project you are sure no-one would be interested in (you are wrong by the way), creating that poster (not as hard as you think), applying to present it at conferences (please note that this word is plural!), the list goes on, but the newest tool in our kitbag is social media.

If you are one of the people who are sceptical of or unsure about the power social media can wield let’s consider the extend to which messages about positive practice can can be spread using social media platforms.

In my last blog I shared videos which were launched at the event to promote some great work at Yorkhill Children’s Hospital – What Matters to Me has been viewed 1346 times and I’m on My Way a massive 22,240 times.

So far this month I have composed 262 tweets promoting messages, practice and research relevant to my professional interests. These will potentially have been seen by up to 420 people who follow my Twitter account, and almost half of these tweets have been re-tweeted by my followers and their followers, and so on, reaching up to a potential 59,000 people.

To date almost 4300 people from across the globe have read my blog, and over 600 of these people have accessed posts via Twitter. Even more impressive (for me at least) is that tweets mentioning me by name this month have potentially reached over 43,000 – now that’s a good way to build a reputation!

Is this social media thing a good use of our professional time and effort? I think so. Do we need to be more able to see our practice as being worthy of sharing? Absolutely. Can we afford not to? No way!

We’re On Our Way…

1700 delegates, 232 posters, 54 exhibition stands, 24 parallel sessions, 2 days, and 1 helluva buzz!!!

This is the first NHS Scotland conference I have attended in my nearly 20 years service and I was not disappointed. As confetti from a recent NKOTB concert continued to float from the rafters of the Clyde Auditorium our own “new kid” Paul Gray reminded us why we should be proud of the international reputation held by the NHS in Scotland.

Many strong themes ran throughout the event but the importance of person-centred care was the overarching message running through the plenary and parallel sessions. In the opening session we were challenged by Jason Leitch and Jennifer Rodgers to consider what happens when healthcare professionals replace the more common question “What is the matter with you?” with the more fundamental question “What matters to you?”.

The message also came across loud and clear in the parallel session chaired by Audrey Birt “Ask Me, Hear Me: Improving My Care Experiences” where I was reminded of the wise words of Maya Angelou – “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Audrey has experience of our healthcare system from both sides of the equation and she urges us to allow patients to step into their power by stepping back from ours, but to walk that path together. In this session Craig White also asked each of us to make our pledge to improve the person-centredness of our practice – here is my SLT colleague Claire Higgins making her pledge.

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To further reinforce the message, in his closing address, Paul Gray reminded us that attention to the patient voice is central to delivering quality services.

But for many people with communication support needs, even when the opportunity is given, it will require more consideration as to how the opportunity is given in order for their voice to be heard. There are many tools available that can support this work from Emotional Touchpoints to Talking Mats and even good old fashioned paper and coloured pens (which were all mentioned during the sessions I attended), but most of all we need to put value in these conversations and ensure that we learn to really listen to the people who access our services.

What Counts?

Apologies for my recent silence – October has been a busy but very productive month for raising the profile of Speech and Language Therapy in mental health settings.

The month started off with 2 conferences in Edinburgh for Allied Health Professionals from across Scotland, the UK and the world. I was pleased to have a poster accepted for the Scottish conference and honoured to be asked to present a workshop at the International conference. My topic for both was person-centred care and I shared the outcomes and learning from the staff training and support programme I have been piloting with a team of local social care staff.

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I am proud to say that my poster won joint first prize as voted for by delegates attending the conference, and even prouder that my workshop was attended by the CEO and Chair of Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists!

Our outcomes are so important but sometimes it can be difficult to measure what is truly important. As Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”. In an age where we are driven to seek the evidence to underpin our practice where can we find the evidence about what really counts for the people in our care?

With this in mind, the RCSLT Mental Health Clinical Excellence Network met in London, Glasgow and Limerick (embracing video-conferencing technology) to discuss “What works for SLTs in Mental Health?”. We had a packed day of presentations from therapists working in the field; sharing information, approaches and tools that have really made a difference for the people they support. While far from the scientific “gold standard” of research evidence, this sharing of anecdotal experience does start the process of unpicking what really counts in the work that we do.

In my work supporting good communication between people with mental health problems and social care staff I have not improved any one person’s speech, language or conversational skills as could be measured on a standardised assessment. However, what we have achieved are significant improvements in people’s quality of life in terms of their participation, independence, involvement, relationships and mental wellbeing – and that, in my opinion, is what really counts.

Singing from the Same Songsheet

What happens when you ask a Speech and Language Therapist to talk to a group of professionals including Mental Health Nurses, Social Workers,  Occupational Therapists, Mental Health Officers, Police Officers, Advocacy Workers and Employment Advisers about how they work with and supporting adults with mental health problems?

Firstly, you get a slightly anxious Susan. I am accustomed to speaking to large groups of people so an audience of around 70 was not the issue. My trepidation came from speaking to such a diverse audience. Usually I have an idea of how receptive or otherwise my audience are likely to be; not so on this occasion. So maybe it was fitting that I was speaking at the home of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery as I embarked on this journey into unknown, possibly frosty and potentially treacherous territory!

I need not have worried, as what transpired on the day was an incredible conversation where everyone agreed about the importance of recognising and addressing communication difficulties.  If I was to summarise the message from the audience it would be…

  • we cannot do our jobs without good communication,
  • it is an ongoing challenge to communicate well with the people who use or come into contact with our services,
  • we don’t always get our communication right,
  • so how are you going to help us?

So I need not have worried. It would appear that we are all singing from the same songsheet – my job now is to be good conductor and pull this performance off!

Agents of Change

More than 300 Scottish Allied Health Professionals converged on our capital city this week to consider the role of AHPs as Agents of Change in Health and Social Care.  The buzz during the day was infectious as we were treated to a range of inspiring speakers and copious examples of excellent practice, as well as the launch of new tools to support AHP practice across all care groups.

As a Speech and Language Therapist, I was delighted to see the launch of NHS Education for Scotland’s on-line training package: Making Communication Even Better.  Developed in partnership with Capability Scotland and Talking Mats, and involving members of Communication Forum Scotland, this resource highlights the power of the patient voice in shaping better services and emphasises the importance of effective communication in the provision of good health and social care – something I feel passionately about.

My other key messages from the event were…

As the conference was coming towards its end, the Agents of Change were given a mission by M, aka Derek Feeley (CEO of NHS Scotland), to implement, innovate and improve within the services we deliver and I personally have chosen to accept this Mission Possible.