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.

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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.

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.

Who Are You? And Where Did You Come From?

As mentioned in my first blog, there are very few Speech and Language Therapists working in adult mental health contexts and it is not a field where our role is widely recognised or understood, even within the profession. So how did I get here?

When I graduated in 1995 with my shiny new degree in Speech and Language Pathology and Therapeutics (just trips off the tongue doesn’t it), I started my career in a pretty conventional role working with children in community clinics and schools. However, as time progressed, I found that my interest was increasingly drawn away from the mainstream, and within a couple of years I was working exclusively with young people who had complex medical, social and educational needs in a school which had a dedicated health team who worked alongside the teaching staff. The years I spent as part of this close-knit team taught me much about seeing every individual as an individual, about the expertise and perspective of a wide range of other professions, and about how to make collaborative working actually work!

The irresistible draw of a new opportunity then took me into the field of adult learning disability; an area that was to be my clinical specialism for the next 10 years. Initially based in a long-stay institution, this was the first time that I worked with people with mental health problems and where I came to understand that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for challenging the status quo and embracing new ideas; an experience that increased my resilience but did not burst my bubble. As more individuals were resettled from the hospital back into their communities, I also re-located to become part of a community learning disability team. Working in this multi-disciplinary and multi-agency context provided an environment that encouraged my creativity and promoted innovative practice; opportunities which I embraced wholeheartedly.

It was this passion to push the boundaries, in partnership with my inner geek, that then led me to further my professional education and undertake my MSc in Health and Social Care, which I completed in 2008. Then, as if the Opportunity Fairy knew that I was now free to undertake my next professional challenge, a post was advertised to develop a brand new Speech and Language Therapy service in adult mental health; and that, dear friends, is where this story truly begins…