“Shared commitment – from us to you Tommy”

Shared commitment – from us to you Tommy – Professor Fiona McQueen

 ‘I pledge to have an understanding, listening ear throughout my nursing career. I will make a difference.’

People come in to nursing for many reasons. The above quote is from a student nurse during Tommy’s presentation at Crosshouse hospital.

Like me, many nurses entering the profession, wanted to care for people and improve lives, but people with dementia rarely featured in our thinking. Indeed, society has changed practically beyond recognition over the last few decades, with families flung to all corners of the world, people living much longer, and dementia becoming as prominent in day to day language as many other physical illnesses. The challenge this presents is that older people living with dementia may have differing levels of family support, and families have differing levels of contact with their parents. Although much has been written and predicted about dementia, at times it feels as though society (or public services) has been taken completely by surprise, or at least off guard.

So, although within NHS Ayrshire & Arran we’ve invested in training our Dementia Champions; we have an amazing Consultant Nurse; a plethora programmes to support improvements in care; and I do think we’re doing good work; why did I feel off guard when I heard Tommy’s story?

Tommy had come to our Board meeting and talked about the care of Joan and what the Dementia Carer Voices project was about . It was powerful and uplifting. Affirming the amazing work many of our staffare doing, but also sharing some of his struggles. During the meeting we had an opportunity to make our pledges about what we would do to improve care for people with dementia and their carers, and Board members were pleased to do that, inviting Tommy back so we could look at what had been achieved.

The first official Dementia Carer Voices visit to NHS Ayrshire & Arran was at Crosshouse Hospital on a Friday afternoon – I assumed a few people would turn up, and I assumed I would hear more of what I had heard at the NHS Board meeting. I was blown away to arrive and find an almost full lecture theatre – scarcely seen unless an official conference. But it was the power of Tommy’s presentation that actually blew me away, and the impact it had on me, and judging by the pledges, by everyone else who had turned up.

So what happened in that couple of hours in Crosshouse Hospital that lit the flame of passion in all who were there? Was it the passion of a son who struggled to care for his mum? Was it the fact that we could all see ourselves delivering care to a patient but not to a person? To the person who had met their partner, fallen in love, got married, had children, suffered their own hardships and had come through them? Was it making sure that he had used Joan’s favourite shampoo, a strong memory of his childhood? Or made sure she dried herself like a lady? Or that he had taken his mum on a bus to get help and was told to phone and make an appointment and be seen in four days?

Whatever struck a chord with the audience, it certainly struck home; and it has stayed with me ever since, and I suspect won’t leave me for a long time, if at all.

Listening to Tommy giving a first hand account of the struggle and also joy of caring for his mum is just the catalyst we all needed to effect change. The four hour target in A&E, wait time target, quality strategy, and many more; are vehicles for improving services, but more often than not are delivered from a technical perspective rather than wholeheartedly embracing the point – that is delivering care that is truly excellent and person centred. And if we get it right for people with dementia and their families and loved ones, we get it right for everyone else.

So what’s stopping us? Is it really that we don’t have enough time? (perhaps in some cases). Is it really that we can’t be bothered?(unlikely) is it because it’s too painful? (how can practitioners deliver compassionate care and not burn out?) Is it because services are built around bureaucracies rather than people? Is it because services are built around a vision of the health service our forefathers had in the thirties and forties?

Whatever’s stopping us, my pledge is to provide the leadership and provide the fuel for the flame of passion that is being lit every time someone hears Tommy speak. The pledges that we’re getting in Ayrshire are uplifting. Commitment from bedside to Board; action that will change the way services are shaped, to actions that will change the way we care for people.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

I think we’re seeing the power of what just one man can do……something that I believe will last for ever.

Thank you Tommy

Professor Fiona McQueen
Executive Nurse Director
NHS Ayrshire & Arran


Posted in 'Viewpoint' Blog Posts
2 comments on ““Shared commitment – from us to you Tommy”
  1. […] McQueen’s ‘Viewpoint’ blog piece spoke of the NHSaaa experience has had over 5000 hits, with over 900 retweets on Twitter. The use […]

  2. […] McQueen’s ‘Viewpoint’ blog piece spoke of the NHSaaa experience has had over 5000 hits, with over 900 retweets on Twitter. The use […]

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