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.

claire

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.

Simply the Best: Teach Me How

This week’s 3 best things have a learning theme.

1. Second Time Lucky – While I usually work with a person because their mental health problems are causing communication difficulties, I also occasionally work with people who have lost their communication skills and as a result of this loss are experiencing problems with their mental health. Harriet* had a brain haemorrhage several years ago which resulted in a significant loss of her communication skills. This loss had a profound impact on Harriet’s sense of self and her social role, and she became depressed which in turn had a significant impact on her ability to engage in rehabilitation. Many mainstream therapy services may not be able to adapt their input to address the mental health components of an individual’s rehabilitation journey and for Harriet, the perceived inability to engage resulted in her being discharged. A change in approach that has acknowledged the mental health component of Harriet’s difficulties has allowed her to re-engage with Speech and Language Therapy and she is starting to make progress again.

2. Train the Trainer – Each year NHS Education for Scotland offer funding for Allied Health Professionals to undertake training or experiential learning to progress their career and improve the services they provide. This week I learned that I have secured funding to become a Talking Mats Accredited Trainer. This will allow me to offer training in this extremely useful communication approach in my local area and I am so excited about the ways in which this will improve communication practice in our mental health services.

3. Family Ties – Our relationships with family and close friends are key in supporting our mental wellbeing, but for the people with communication difficulties these often impact on interactions with these important people. An individual’s communication barriers are only half the story though; the other person’s understanding of these difficulties and how to cope with them are just as important. This week I have had the opportunity to do some very rewarding work with a number of families; supporting understanding, increasing skills and ensuring these important relationships are maintained.

* Harriet is a pseudonym to protect client confidentiality.