Friday, 19 March 2021

It's not fair

It’s so joyful seeing my three year old granddaughter, Lyra, develop her language. 

However, her newly learned phrase of “It’s not fair!”, delivered with an impressive dollop of pouting, whining and sulking is funny but thought provoking. 

Lyra, of course, uses it when I won’t let her have ice-cream before her tea or stay playing outside when it’s pouring with rain. But it’s interesting that even at the age of three we start to have a sense of what’s fair and what’s not; and there has certainly been a lot over the last few weeks that has made me think about fairness in life. 

Like many women I have been shocked by the death of Sarah Everard. Her murder has appalled people and ignited a passionate debate around the issue of male violence. While there is widespread horror and sadness, I think many responding might be grieving something else we, as women, feel we don’t have – the sense of justice and equality.

The vast majority of us didn’t know Sarah Everard, but this case has chimed with so many. It’s led women across the land to speak out about their experiences of harassment, abuse and violence against women. Some have chosen to share their own experiences to highlight how frequently it occurs and how rarely they are taken seriously.

Of course, it’s rare to be abducted, which is partly why this one case - in a year when 117 women were murdered - has shaken us all so much. But it is clearly not rare for women to be harmed by strangers.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the majority of young woman in the UK have experienced sexual harassment of some form; and one in forty young women have experienced rape. I’ve been so struck by the stories of how sexism and a spectrum of behaviour, ranging from dismissive to predatory, has tried to diminish or harm women.

I’ve been lucky not to have had the same dreadful experiences that so many young women have had, but like most women I still feel anxious about being harassed or attacked when I’m out on my own. I carry a rape alarm and also hold my keys tight between my fingers when I’m walking anywhere in the dark. 

Of course, many men experience the same fear late at night and have awful experiences of assault, but there are almost four times as many female victims of sexual assault as men, with more than 4 in 10 being victims of their own partner. It’s also disturbing to hear about the dramatically falling rate of rape prosecutions, down by a third over the last two years. More than 55,000 rapes were recorded in 2019/20, but only 1.4% resulted in a charge or summons. Whatever the reasons, surely this is a betrayal to victims of violence. 

The killing of Sarah Everard has reignited a long standing discussion about women’s safety. Whilst, getting women to modify our behaviour might seem a quicker option than trying to get men to stop being violent towards us, this argument’s been made for too long. Women are attacked regardless of the effort they’ve made to avoid harm. 

So, it is not surprising that there was a strength of feeling that led many people to feel the need to demonstrate through a vigil on Clapham Common last Saturday.  It’s not for me to comment on the rights and wrongs of this during a pandemic, but I was shocked by the way the Met police officers handled this event.  

Just a few weeks before I had watched the news and seen the police apply a hands-off approach to thousands of Rangers fans who came out onto the streets. They had gathered together in Glasgow to celebrate their club’s Scottish Premiership win, and were escorted through the city by the police rather than wrestled to the ground. And there have been other football club celebrations during lockdown where the police have taken the same ‘hands off’ approach.

I appreciate these are never easy judgments and few would envy the delicate line that police have had to tread during lockdown. But I simply don’t understand why it is fair for thousands of mostly male football fans to be left alone on the streets, to sing and hug each other in celebration of a game, when far less women were stopped from a peaceful vigil. There does need to be more of a consistent and proportionate response for us to believe fairness is in play.

Still on the subject of fairness, I wanted to talk about the NHS staff survey results, which have just been published. Nationally, there has been a significant increase in the number of BAME staff experiencing discrimination and feeling unfairly treated with regards to career progression, which is massively disappointing and unacceptable. Far more BAME staff also worked on covid wards, 47% BAME compared to 31% white staff. This is absolutely disgraceful. We all need to shout that this is completely unfair and has to change.

It was really good to see that our results for our BAME staff are bucking this national trend, with a reduction in colleagues feeling discriminated against as well as bullied and harassed. It shows that our commitment and the hard work of our race equality staff network is beginning to work.

You’ve hopefully seen that we’ve just launched our anti-racist statement, just before International Day for the Elimination of Race this Sunday. This is about being unapologetically loud and proud in our stance as an anti-racist organisation. We know that we still have a long way to go, but it is reassuring to see some positive improvements towards fairness.

In terms of our disabled staff, the survey showed an increase in us making adequate adjustments for work, but more felt discriminated against because of their disability. Again, we obviously have more work to do as this isn’t fair.  We must do better and having just achieved ‘level 2 disability confident employer’ status, I know our staff network will help us work towards achieving level 3 which is much more ambitious.

Fairness is one of our values. But it needs to be more than lip service and we have to take every opportunity to address the causes of inequality and remove the barriers that stop us all being treated fairly.

Life isn’t fair sometimes, but we absolutely must try to be.  

Friday, 26 February 2021

Pandemics old and new

“A one-way road to freedom”. 

This is how Boris described his roadmap for the lifting of lockdown measures as he said spring was on its way ‘both literally and figuratively’. 

It's light at end of the tunnel, even if it feels like a long tunnel! There is a lot of understandable caution in the wind and it’s still probably going to be at least another six months before it feels that everything is back to normal.

It’s so hard to believe it’s been a year. No-one could have ever predicted this and I’m going to say again that I appreciate just how tough it’s been for you all, whatever your experience.

It’s been stressful and difficult for frontline staff who have faced daily anxiety about catching and spreading covid, whilst wearing uncomfortable face masks and PPE. It’s been challenging and isolating for staff working remotely, hunched over make-shift desks with sore backs, eye strain and zoom fatigue. Some of you have been trying to work while looking after your kids at home, have been terribly ill from the virus, had the immense pressure of having to shield or faced tragic loss and grief.

It’s been such a tough year and it’s a miracle that you have managed to keep going and make it through even if we are emerging somewhat knackered and emotionally drained.    

It feels as if our whole lives have been on hold in this weird groundhog day world and that we’ve had a year of ‘standing still’ to some extent. But, your phenomenal work actually tells a very different story. The numbers are amazing and show that far from being stuck, you’ve managed to make great strides forwards with your undisputed determination and ingenuity taking on every obstacle.

Since the pandemic started you’ve cared and supported around 100,000 people; selflessly and compassionately providing the highest quality care to help others. You have saved and changed lives.

You’ve held 9000 remote consultations using Attend Anywhere with patients, equivalent to around 7000 hours. You’ve set up a 24-hour patient and carer helpline and been part of rolling out the largest vaccination programme in our history, administering thousands of vaccines to staff in just weeks. Our clinical support services have kept the wheels on the bus in so many ways, helping people who use our services, helping people to work remotely and supporting our programmes of change. And much, much more. I could not be more impressed or proud.

When we went into lockdown a year ago I talked about living in Eyam, the infamous ‘plague village’, in my blog. As a nightmare tale from history, Eyam's ordeal takes some surpassing and is a poignant story of sacrifice. When the great plague arrived in 1665, rather than flee this wild corner of Derbyshire - and risk spreading the infection - villagers locked themselves away to suffer in isolation. And suffer they did. For 14 months infection ravaged the village and 75% of the population lost their lives.

Pandemics are not new to the human species — they're just new to those of us alive now and who’d have thought a year ago the whole country would have to do what those brave villagers in Eyam did hundreds of years ago.

At the beginning of the pandemic last March, the BBC's Fergal Keane visited our village as we braced ourselves for the difficult times ahead. He interviewed 96 year old Sheila Vypan, who not only lives up the road from me, but whose grandson actually works for Pennine Care in our mental health services. He got in touch after last year’s blog to let me know his grandmother was a neighbour. Small world.

Anyway, BBC reporter Fergal Keane returned to our village this week to do a ‘year on’ follow-up piece and spoke to Sheila again to see how she was coping. He asked what her secret to staying happy was and Sheila replied, “Being in the present, trying not to think too much of what might be or what has been. But just taking it in, all that’s here now, and making the most of it”.

I just love this sentiment. Yes, the roadmap out of the pandemic means we can start thinking of the future and looking forward to things like holidays and we do need to think about what the roadmap means for us as an organisation and how things might change over the summer and autumn as we return to more normal life. But we still need to manage the present, take one day at a time and not worry about what we can’t currently change or control.

We will eventually get to the other end of the tunnel and to a better place, but in the meantime, if we can find ways of just taking each day at a time and valuing what we have now, then we might find it easier to get through.  

And when we come out the other end, we won’t go back to exactly what we were doing before, for example, we will continue to support staff to work in a more agile way, both in work places and at home, so we can create extra space for other things, for example, in our Trust HQ building. What this agile working looks like will be down to what works for people who use our services and what works for individual staff, with no expectation that we will go back to working in exactly the same way we did previously. We need to be creative in finding new ‘blended’ ways of working that builds in the advantages we have had from remote working but with the undoubted benefits of seeing each other in person more often.

When the great plague was happening those many centuries ago, Sir Isaac Newton fled his cramped apartment in Cambridge where he was studying for the safety of his family home in Lincolnshire.

His family had a large garden with many fruit trees, and in those uncertain times, out of step with ordinary life, his mind roamed free of routines and social distractions. And it was in this context that a single apple falling from a tree struck him as more intriguing than any of the apples he had previously seen fall. Gravity was a gift of the plague!

You see, there is an opening for previously unthinkable change, not only for the big societal and organisational stuff, but also in countless small ways – privately, personally.

We have lived for months at close quarters with ourselves. We will have deepened our appreciation of some of the simple things we have missed, and some of the pleasures that have helped us through, even if it is only the taste of a new season apple. And in some measure, one year on, we surely know ourselves so much better.

Best wishes

Claire

You can follow me on Twitter @ClaireMolloy2

Thursday, 4 February 2021

It's a Sin

Claire Molloy (top) and
Jeremy Bentham (bottom)

An unknown deadly virus, misinformation, fear and uncertainty about the future. 

No, amazingly I’m not talking about covid, but the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

It’s LGBT+ History Month and I’ve just watched Channel 4’s most binged series of all time - It’s a Sin. It beautifully chronicles the lives of gay friends living in London during the ’80s, with humour and humanity at its very heart. It’s a rare series that is as full of love for its colourful characters as it is sick with anger at the society that failed them. If you are still to watch it, keep your box of tissues close to hand.

I remember this decade well and the awful government AIDS adverts featuring an apocalyptic volcano erupting under a darkened sky and the words ‘Don’t die of ignorance’ chiselled onto a tombstone. These ads were deliberately meant to strike fear into the hearts of the nation, but they also fuelled prejudice and stigma in an already homophobic society.

I joined the NHS in the early 90s and my very first job was working in a GUM sexual health clinic where one of the teams I worked with supported people being tested for the virus. I remember very caring and committed colleagues who were doing a good job, but you could still feel a sense of judgment.

It’s interesting looking back 30 years later and remembering that the main focus then in the service was on contact tracing - a ‘track and trace’ style programme as we now have with covid. I remember much less attention on the psychological impact of testing positive for HIV, which would have been such an enormous and distressing thing.

It’s a Sin expertly depicts how shame, nurtured by a homophobic society allows the virus to flourish and intensify the crisis. It was even labelled the “gay plague” and this cast a large shadow on that community, meaning that many people suffered in silence especially in their last days of life, as shown in the series. Heart-breaking and hugely sad.

Fake news, false facts and conspiracy theories weren’t invented recently. They ran riot with AIDS in the 80s.

It feels as if things have thankfully moved on, but as with so many things we still have a way to go. I still see some of the same prejudice and bias now, especially for the transgender community as there is still such a lot of ignorance amongst us.

The theme for LGBT+ History Month is mind, body and spirit and it's an opportunity to increase the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) people, their history, their lives and their experiences. It’s so important we celebrate the wonderful diversity of the human race, but critical that we reflect when we have treated people poorly so we can change what we do in the future.  

And still on the subject of excellent TV programmes and highlighting prejudice, I was also hugely impacted by The Truth about Disability Hate Crime. This heart-wrenching BBC documentary tells harrowing testimonies from a group of disabled people who face name-calling, physical violence and intimidation in their daily lives.  

It was distressing and depressing to hear their stories, from a wheelchair-bound former nurse being abused relentlessly after she was accused of being a benefits cheat to a blind woman made homeless after becoming a 'target' for muggings in the local area. We also heard from Andrea who faced unprovoked verbal and physical attacks as a result of her dwarfism. She said it was 'rare' for her to be able to leave her home without some form of abuse and that, “every day when you get dressed you don’t just have to put your clothes on, you have to put your wrestling tights on as you have to prepare for a battle.” I can only imagine how exhausting and stressful this must be.

The programme also featured a young man with autism who was left with suicidal thoughts after being a victim of mindless brutal assaults. I was shocked by the routine aggression and abuse they have to face and we clearly need a widespread change in attitudes.

We launched our learning disability strategy yesterday and this focuses on the way we support and see people with learning disability in our society, and aims to maximise their potential. I’m therefore so pleased that Jeremy Bentham, who heads up our learning disability services, has kindly done a guest blog this week.

While disability is, undeniably, a personal issue, it is also a societal one. We need changes in our society to allow everyone to feel a valued part of it and to be the best they can be. We are all different and we all have things that make us unique, but we all fundamentally want to fit in. To have friends, to be loved, to be valued and to be able to live our lives without feeling fear from others.

This is all of our right and we need to stand back and think about the sanctity of human life; and about the type of society needed to protect everyone.  

There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more.

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Guest blog – Jeremy Bentham, learning disability directorate manager

It’s the early 90’s and having just secured an ‘ology’ on the banks of the Mersey, I was on the lookout for employment.

As they do, an opportunity popped up through a friend to work with three people with learning disabilities living together in Middleton. The job brief was pretty straight forward, as a support worker I was asked to get to know them and help them enjoy the things they enjoy.

Similar to many of our career pathways this was the start of a road that wasn’t driven by ‘burning ambition’, it was simply my gentle introduction to the lives of three men living on a back road in Middy.

All three of these people had ambitions of their own, which ranged from falling out of a club at 2am, finding friends to getting a job. Throughout our time together and despite some persistent challenges, these reasonable ambitions didn’t waiver.

Following a trial and failure, failure, failure approach, we eventually shared the joy of rising for work at silly o’clock and leaving the Carlton club at 2am using the escalator, also known locally as ‘escalator to heaven’. It was really the small things that made a difference in the end to their lives, the bouncer who knew queuing was anxiety provoking and let us straight in, the patience of the bar staff, the friend who knew how to listen and when to leave and the employer who didn’t mind a late start (as long as the hours went in).

In comparison to the absolutely awful life experiences these men had endured characterised by decades of institutionalisation, isolation and abuse, the small inroads we made together might seem insignificant. I like to think that these and others experiences made a difference within that space and moment in time, however I can’t honestly guarantee that they did in the long run. I can only really attest to the impact meeting these people had on me.

Their resilience and refusal to compromise on personal ambitions inspired me to see what else I could do, as a result I’m all trained up and pretty much in the same job 30 years on. Sadly the Carlton has now closed.

This month we launch our Pennine Care learning disability plan. We have developed our plan from listening to people with learning disabilities, colleagues, self-advocates and families.

To some our ambitions may seem modest, however they reflect the modest ambition of most people with learning disabilities to have an life experience free from stubborn inequalities. Our plan is really about the whole of Pennine Care, not just the bits we might usually think of when discussing how we support and care for people with a learning disability.

Our plan needs momentum, as a starter for 10 it would be great if everyone, both corporate and clinical, took 5 mins to cast an eye over the plan and consider ‘the small things that might make a difference in the end’.

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Best wishes

Claire

You can follow me on Twitter @ClaireMolloy2

Friday, 22 January 2021

Endurance

Claire Molloy (top) and
Evelyn Asante-Mensah
(bottom)

I felt strangely relieved when I found out it was Blue Monday at the start of this week, as the day started badly and seemed to deteriorate from there.

Blue Monday is the third Monday of January and is, or so the theory goes, the most depressing day of the year.  It’s cold, you’ve spent all your money on Christmas and all your new year’s resolutions have failed. And that’s for a normal year without a devastating new wave of covid infections, deaths and lockdown.

I woke up feeling that I would just love to pull the duvet over my head and pretend the world wasn’t there! I dropped a glass during breakfast, which smashed everywhere. I then sat down on the settee in a sopping wet patch where my granddaughter had had ‘an accident’. And my son rang later to say that our family cat, which is currently keeping him company as he lives on his own, is very ill and may have to be put down.

These are all small things in comparison to what so many of you and our colleagues in local hospitals are dealing with right now, but Monday definitely felt a little blue.

However, in the evening I curled up on the sofa to watch ‘One born every minute’ and, you know what, it really cheered me up. There was a couple on the programme who were having a baby after seven stressful years of unsuccessfully trying to conceive and it was so heart-warming and uplifting. Just that sense of hope that, even when it seems as if things are impossible, they really aren’t.

I also felt really emotional scrolling through twitter and reading staff posts about having the covid vaccine on the opening day of our vaccine hub. They filled me with a huge sense of relief, hope and pride. The NHS has worked tirelessly to rollout this historic vaccine programme and, in Greater Manchester alone, there are now over 50 vaccination hubs. Our region is already about half way there in vaccinating people in the top four risk groups, with thousands more getting this life-saving jab every day.  

I want to give an enormous shout-out to Sian Schofield, Petra Brown and Sally Naughton for their phenomenal work in setting up our vaccination hub in just two weeks, as well as everyone else who has stepped up to support the programme. We’re now vaccinating just under 200 people every day, and it’s been an awesome and massive team effort. A powerful example of what amazing leaders we have in this organisation, which is timely as next week we start a bespoke leadership development programme with all the clinical and operational leaders in our new structure.

I’m popping into the vaccination hub this afternoon to see how it’s going and look forward to thanking some of you in person. Evelyn, our chair, is also having her jab this afternoon at our hub. As many of you know, Evelyn has underlying health conditions and is therefore in one of the high risk groups, and she’s written a guest blog about this which you can read below.

I know there’s still a long way to go in the fight against this pandemic and that the NHS is at a very precarious point, but this is all monumental news. The beginning of the end.

Throughout this covid crisis, people have referred to tackling it as a marathon, not a sprint. But what makes the pandemic so much harder is that it is not predictable. We don’t know where the finish line is, neither can we predict the time we will get there. We did not train for this and there won’t be the heady sense of accomplishment and completion when we finish. It’s difficult to envision any sense of celebration or any fading of the pain of this crisis.

But it has never the less demanded a huge level of endurance as we are needing to face the difficulties with perseverance and sustained energy over time. I don’t think any of us have any experience of endurance that goes anywhere near what we have been through over the last year. But whilst my own ‘endurance feats’ seem inadequate preparation for the pandemic, I do think there is some learning from the climbing expeditions I have been on and long distance races I have done over the years.

There’s a similarity in the sense of three phases.  If you think about doing any endurance event, the first phase is a shock to the system as you start. It’s always hard getting going, but that’s balanced by the freshness and novelty of the challenge. The middle section is where you get into a battle rhythm and become more effective at what you’re doing. And the last third is the most painful, it seems much longer than the other parts and the hurting physically and emotionally feels like a cruel, gruelling punishment. You want to stop and are desperate for it to be over.

It feels like we are in that painful last phase with this pandemic. We can see an end in sight and there is light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s such incredibly hard going.

There’s a book called ‘Run the Mile You’re In’ and it says that worrying about the miles remaining could overwhelm and paralyse you in the current moment, discourage you or drag you down. But you know you can run a mile. Yes, planning for the whole distance is important, but we just need to find the strength to get through the next mile, and then worry about the next one.

This covid ‘home straight’ might be longer than we anticipated, but we are in the final part as our fantastic vaccine hub is testament to.

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Guest blog – Evelyn Asante-Mensah

An injection of hope.

That’s how I feel about having the covid vaccine in our hub this afternoon.

I’ve always loved hugging my grandchildren and, before our world changed, I was used to spending lots of time with them. We would regularly be in each other's houses. That wonderful and simple act, that I previously took for granted and now feels like a lifetime ago, will be overwhelming when I’m finally able to put my arms around them.

This NHS vaccination programme is a monumental and momentous turning point, which will help us get back to some kind of normality.

Being in a high-risk group, because of my serious underlying health conditions, has fuelled my anxiety throughout this pandemic. The worry and stress has felt insurmountable at times, so knowing this small but mighty injection will help stop that gnawing fear is a really big deal for me.

As a black woman of African origin, I understand the fears and hesitancy within communities to take a vaccine not only because of the speed in which it was produced but also for some the mistrust around historic authorities and their actions.  As a health professional, I believe that the vaccine and the work undertaken by the scientists and medics is the best way forward.

There’s lots of dangerous rhetoric out there and I’ve been sent personal messages and videos from anti-vaxxers. Some people in my family, as well as some professional colleagues, are very cautious. It's important for people to be able to voice their anxieties, as it can help an informed discussion to take place, and I’ve had productive discussions with my family about some of their worries. 

I’m very aware of the responsibility I have to encourage others to have the vaccine and want to keep telling everyone that I have also studied the evidence and facts. Yes, we need to have some level of trust and put our faith in the experts, but I’ve still done lots of my own research on the pros and cons.

There are risks to everything and it's about weighing up those risks. And for me, it’s a ‘no brainer’. The potential risk of having covid versus the risk of any potential side-effects is simply no contest. Contracting covid would probably put me in hospital on a ventilator or even possibly kill me.

It's been a herculean effort by the scientific and medical professionals and I think we’re very lucky to have this opportunity so early. We need to gratefully grab it with both hands. Not just to protect ourselves can I stress, but to help protect others such as our families, friends, patients, colleagues and people in our communities.

My mum is in her 80s and also has a number of serious health issues and I took her to the NHS Vallance Centre in Manchester on Saturday to have her covid vaccine. There was such a positive atmosphere at this vaccination centre, you could feel a mix of relief and optimism in the air. The staff were so good, with a lovely doctor explaining everything so well to her.  My mum is very religious and said a prayer afterwards as she was so thankful and, like me, sees hope running through this vaccine. I knew she was nervous and felt so proud of her. We’re all brave in our own way and that’s a powerful thing.

So, this afternoon it will feel as though I’m entering the next phase of my life. I know it won’t be plain sailing, and we still all need to be vigilant and careful, but there will be a lot less fear and anxiety. A next stage where I can take such joy in being closer to my family and hugging my grandchildren tightly. I’ve so missed that.

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Best wishes

Claire and Evelyn

Friday, 8 January 2021

What a difference a year makes

2020 has felt so surreal at times, the stuff of fiction. And like a sci-fi or horror movie the dramatic twists and turns just don't seem to stop (not just the covid ones, it’s truly shocking what is happening over in America).

In thinking about how much things have changed, I looked at last year’s blog to reflect on what I was talking about twelve months ago. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was very much focussed on all the usual new year resolutions, ambitions and aspirations.

It’s understandable of course that no-one seems to be bothering with any of this for 2021. In the aftermath of the last distressing and tough year, and especially now being in the eye of the storm of another pandemic wave, setting goals feels a bit futile and also a tad overwhelming to be honest. Just getting through the next few months is going to be hard enough.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we need to cut ourselves some slack. After a year that thoroughly upended our lives, the most “typical” resolutions – to travel more, spend more time with friends, start a new hobby - seem a little frivolous if not impossible to achieve.

This year instead, I’m focusing on the ‘here and now’ and what I ‘value’ most. So, I’m concentrating on maintaining my energy and my health, which includes filling up on the ‘feel good’ factor of being outside (and not feeling guilty with the big slice of cake after a walk) and a newly discovered love of 'pottering'.

With the restrictions over Christmas, I was forced into a much less social break, and surprisingly I really enjoyed doing nothing more for a couple of days than getting up late, sitting around in my pyjamas and overloading on telly and food. Of course, I don't think my clothes could cope with a further year of that, but there is definitely something to be said about the value of pottering! 

In last year’s blog, I talked about 2020 being the Year of the Rat which signifies spirit, flexibility and courage. The rat has an energetic and tenacious nature, which you have demonstrated in bucket loads during the pandemic. Our value of ingenuity has been running through your veins, and we’ll no doubt need to draw deeply on this value over 2021 as well. It’s helped us make so much progress, even though it’s been seriously tough.

And so now as we move into the Year of the Ox, it feels quite relevant again as the ox denotes dependability, strength, determination and diligence. Determination is another of our values and all the ox’s characteristics will have to manifest deeply in all of us in the coming months. The ox is “grounded, loyal, gentle and trustworthy”, which are attributes I regularly hear people use to praise you from the rooftops. 

It seems entirely appropriate that another tough year is symbolised by a beast of burden! You have carried, and continue to carry, an enormous responsibility for keeping services going for the benefit of people who rely on you despite the heavy load and risk to you personally. I am so very proud of everything you are doing.

Whilst it has felt very strange saying Happy New Year to colleagues this week, given we have started the year in very familiar but worrying territory, there is hope on the horizon with the vaccines. A successful vaccine programme will solve both the health and economic crisis. Once enough jabs have been administered, the pressure on the NHS will begin to lift, restrictions will be eased, businesses will be allowed to reopen and the economy will recover. We will hopefully be able to get back to some semblance of 'normal' life before this time next year.

I know some of you have already been able to access the vaccine from hospital hubs, but we have been asked to prepare to be a vaccine hub ourselves from next Monday and to try to vaccinate as many of our front line and at risk staff by the end of January. We are currently training staff to deliver vaccines and, as soon as we receive supplies, we will be off. We will give people more details as soon as we can.

So although things might get worse before they get better, they will get better. It makes me think of the M. Scott Peck book ‘The Road Less Travelled’. He starts with the sentence ‘Life is difficult’ and goes on to explain that, when we accept that, we can develop the tools to cope and move beyond it. Like the ox, we need to stay positive and stand firm for this last leg and try and get through it as best we can.

So, let’s keep on looking after ourselves and each other. If there are things the Board could be practically doing to help people get through the next few months, we want to know about them. We have NHS charities money to help with your wellbeing and have previously done comfort packs to front line teams.

We’ve already got feedback about what might help to support your wellbeing through various different channels, but please keep your thoughts and ideas coming through. You can let us know through our staff networks, via the communications team or the new open forum section on our intranet.

Here's to a more hopeful 2021.

Best wishes

Claire

You can follow me on Twitter @ClaireMolloy2 

Friday, 18 December 2020

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

This Bing Crosby classic is one of my favourite festive songs. 

That single line conjures up images of traditional things like Christmas trees, tinsel, mince pies and log fires. But it’s used a little sarcastically in the Molloy household as well. All harmless and tongue-in-cheek but, when the commercialism and pressure becomes a bit too much during the festive season, we sing it under our breath to lighten the moment. When you have been rammed by yet another trolley battling the bulging Tesco aisles or are arguing over the single cellotape roll wrapping presents, one of the family will strike up singing ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’ and you can’t help but giggle. It lightens a stressful moment and helps us cope and keep smiling.

So, whilst it actually is looking a lot like Christmas, we all know of course that this year will be a far cry from what we are used to.

Everyone has been impacted in different ways, but it’s fair to say it’s been a unbelievably tough year for all on some level. Families are facing difficult personal decisions about whether to meet up with their loved ones at Christmas or remain apart. My single son, who is in our bubble, is coming to stay with us for few days and also my brother for a small family get-together, but I know its going to be a tricky juggling act, especially for large or blended families.  And my heart especially goes out to those who have lost loved ones this year. They will be mourning and missing them, but not even able to collectively grieve their absence together over the Christmas break.

People have been especially trying to find meaning this year.

I just loved a story on Facebook about a teacher’s lesson to school children on happiness, caring, and teamwork. She brought balloons to the school, told her pupils to blow them up and write their name on one. After the children tossed their balloons into the hall, the teacher moved through the hall mixing them all up. The kids were given five minutes to find the balloon with their name on it, but though they searched frantically, no one found their own balloon.
 
Then the teacher told them to take the balloon closest to them and give it to the person whose name was on it. In less than two minutes, everyone was holding their own balloon.

The teacher said to the children, “These balloons are like happiness. We won’t find it when we’re only searching for our own. But if we care about someone else’s happiness…it will ultimately help us find our own.”

The last ten months of the pandemic have been full of people caring about someone else’s happiness and going above and beyond to help and care for them. I’ve seen so many examples of this from people who work here, who have been helping others find their ‘balloons’ by the bucket load! And there are lots of touching stories about helping others at Christmas too. It’s wonderful.

There are too many lovely examples to list, but I was so struck by Sheila Bekoe’s story about delivering food and other basic products to struggling BAME families in north Manchester. Sheila’s efforts are marvellous, but so too your generosity in donating items in huge numbers having read her story. I’m also aware some of you have been volunteering at foodbanks, like Shakiel Khan, from our home treatment team in Rochdale. Donations are pouring in from Shekiel’s whole team too for the foodbank.

And we’ve got teams going to great efforts to give patients a special Christmas. Staff at The Meadows in Stockport, for example, have collectively raised over £400 through a raffle to buy festive extras for patients on Rosewood Ward. Our Tameside and Glossop early intervention team has been supporting lots of local causes; collecting clothing, sleeping bags, selection boxes, toys, and food. Then there’s the Healthy Young Minds Oldham team who have set up a reverse advent calendar, so they bring in items for a local foodbank. The list goes on. This is the true spirit of Christmas.

Some say that life will never be the same again, that we’ll forever be haunted by the tragic loss of life, suffering, mental anguish, diminished economic prosperity, and so much more. On the other hand, what’s unfolded as a result of this pandemic is a reawakened sense of life’s meaning and purpose, recognition of our hidden strengths, and willingness to tap into our core goodness and generosity.

But as I have said many times before, to help others, we must look after ourselves. I know many of you are working over the Christmas holiday period, but please all make sure you have some time for yourselves if you can. It’s been a tough year and everyone is tired. So, it’s perfectly OK to veg out on the sofa, slob in pyjamas or gorge on mince pies. Whatever floats your boat. We all need space to relax, recharge, and recuperate.

Thank you again for everything you are and everything you do. Wishing you a lovely break.

Claire

You can follow me on Twitter @ClaireMolloy2

Friday, 4 December 2020

Compassionate leadership requires courage

The subject of compassionate leadership has been on my mind this week. Following the Board’s session with Professor Michael West that I talked about in my last blog, we had a follow up discussion to consider how we can best support compassionate leadership and good team working across our organisation.

It’s a myth that you cannot be compassionate and strong. Compassionate leadership requires courage. The courage to listen to tough messages from those we lead. The courage to explore understanding of others challenges and have our own interpretations challenged.

You can be a compassionate leader and still take difficult decisions, manage performance and make radical changes. But a compassionate approach is about consulting, listening and compromising when it’s in the best interests of others. It’s by releasing people’s motivation and creativity through compassionate leadership that we can ensure commitment to purpose and performance.

Professor West talks about compassionate leadership being about paying attention - ‘listening with fascination’, where we are really present and not thinking about what we want to say. It’s about listening to understand, not listening to reply, and it helps us to move forward, progress, alter our behaviour and become more self-aware.  

Compassionate leadership is also about showing empathy and putting ourselves in somebody else’s shoes; and finally it’s about helping – finding a meaningful response or action.

But it can be tough to help others when you yourself are at your limits. We’ve all chosen to work in the public sector, thereby actively choosing to be part of a sector that is there to help and care for people. Our desire to be compassionate is not in question.

But how can leaders help a team with burnout when they themselves are burned out? Staff shortages, ever increasing demands and the current climate can all lead to chronic excessive workload across every layer. Other work difficulties and personal circumstances can also pile the stress on, and the evidence shows that if people are under consistent pressure for a long period of time then this is harmful in so many ways. As the saying goes “You can’t pour from an empty jug”.

In the Board, we talked about three areas of potential focus during our session this week.

Firstly, how we model compassionate leadership for others, as it starts with us. We need to be constantly mindful of our values and display our expected behaviours in our day-to-day conversations and actions. And we need to check how we are doing with you, for example through 360 feedback to see where each of us needs to improve and grow. One of the things we are also introducing is reverse mentoring, so we have an opportunity to hear how it really is for our staff with protected characteristics.

We also talked about how we support our leaders and teams. We need to continue to identify where pressure is greatest and do all we can to reduce chronic excessive workload. This second wave of covid has really taken it out of people, and many staff were already under a lot of stress and strain before the pandemic turned our world upside down. Some services are under-resourced, others are going through complex transformation and corporate services are being redesigned. People are frazzled and worn out.

So, we need to make sure the Niche work, which shows where we need more funding, feeds strongly into the refresh of the Greater Manchester mental health strategy, the supporting investment plan and in our local contract negotiations for next year. And even where it is difficult to solve some of these long standing issues, we need to encourage conversations about chronic excessive workloads.

Managers often feel that if they initiate the conversation they have to do something about it. We might not have a magic wand to solve all of the issues immediately, but we still need to listen and see if we can help. Burnout is never a failure, we are all susceptible to it and our environment can precipitate it. We’re all in this together and even listening and being heard about how hard things are can help.

We are also going to develop a clear leadership strategy across our organisation that makes our aspiration for compassionate leadership explicit and includes the actions we will take to promote this. Every team should experience some form of team development at least once a year and we want to develop what’s on offer to you, from general to bespoke development.

We’re already rolling out a big leadership development training programme as part of our new clinical and operational leadership redesign, and this will include compassionate and effective team leadership and management. We also need to promote the importance of a ‘home team’ approach with shared objectives, regular supervision, time for reflection and mutual support.

And when I talk about ‘teams’, let's not forget student placements within this. I know one of the challenges during covid is sustaining the support and preparation for students, but they are ‘essential workers’ and supporting them to meet their learning outcomes is a vital part of our work.

The final area the Board discussed was about the importance of having time for reflection. It can be really hard to take time out when there is so much to do, with more tasks piling in. But we need to encourage people and teams to have a space for reflection, as well as informal catch-ups. Reflection is about careful thought. It give us a valuable opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider interpretations and create meaning. This becomes learning.

The communications team was telling me about starting every Friday meeting with a fun ‘how are you feeling’ picture scale. The picture montages range from different animals in wacky poses (last Friday was hamsters) to celebrities in emotional snaps from joy to despair. They said that the picture they choose is sort of irrelevant, it’s a fun catalyst to help everyone open up about how they are feeling and how their week has been. I think I’m going to introduce this into our execs meetings!

Positive leadership is about optimism and humour, as well as compassion. So, we need the fun and the enthusiasm as well as the empathy and kindness.

I loved a recent tweet from Jaco Nel, one of our consultant psychiatrists and chair of our disabled employees network. It said, ‘When you’ve had a difficult week and you feel you have failed. Reflect and remind yourself of all the things you have achieved. We’re human and can’t be perfect all the time. Have a good weekend’.

A wonderful message.

Best wishes

Claire

You can follow me on Twitter @ClaireMolloy2