Looking Back – 2009

I was wondering how to finish the year off and mark it. So I looked at last year’s posts for inspiration to see how I marked the end of the last year. I ran a couple of posts – one looking back on the year in my first ‘proper’ year of blogging and another post looking at changes that had taken place professionally over the previous year of 2008 and another one looking forward to 2009.

I thought this year, I’d combine them into the same post and then, over the weekend, that will leave me time for the ‘looking forward’ post.

So as far as the blog has gone, I have definitely picked up readers over the past year and thank all of you visiting for that! Without doubt I have had more external distractions this year, with my father’s health fading and his death in August, to starting with the fostering  and now, the placement of our third foster child – so I have allowed myself a little more leeway with ‘days off’ than I did in the first year.

I installed a couple of extra widgets to track visitors and Clustrmaps tell me that by far and away most visitors come to me from the UK – unsurprisingly – followed by the United States, then Canada, Australia and then India.

But visitors have called from Libya, Sudan and Moldava – I can’t help wondering if they found what they were looking for!

Unsurprisingly the ‘About me’ and ‘Contact me’ pages are the most popular – probably because they have been constants however the Gerry Robinson posts come up pretty close which, considering the recentness of their posting, shows how many people were affected by the programmes made and wanted to find out more. The effect of the mainstream media is unsurprising and undeniable.

A quick run down on some search terms is always good for a giggle although I can’t beat some of Mental Nurse’s efforts as my most popular search terms have been, after the name of the blog, ‘angry face’, ‘general social care council’ and ‘good mental health’. Fairly expected, I think.

As for the next year, I definitely intend to read and discover more blogs, even if it means cutting down my own output a little as that’s an area that I haven’t concentrated on as much this year. Ideally, I’d like to produce better quality postings, less frequently, if necessary but retain the mix between commentary on social work, mental health and anecdotes from my working life with the occasional foray into personal thoughts.

And professionally, looking at 2008, I was reflecting on the changes to the Mental Health Act and the introduction of the Deprivation of Liberties Safeguards.

This year, it seems to have been about the Social Work Taskforce and coming in right at the end, the New Horizons paper on the future of Mental Health services in the UK. I expect both of these documents to have a major impact on the next year, at least, in a very real and immediate way. We have already had documents sent round about changes planned across the Trust as a result of the New Horizons proposals. I expect many changes before the year is out.

As for the Taskforce report, my expectations are that the impetus to change will come more slowly but I am comforted by the results published and am hopeful that there will be a blossoming in the development of social work in the UK. Ever hopeful, of course but as I was saying to a colleague just yesterday, whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, is unlikely to change the outcome, but if you are optimistic, you might have a more enjoyable experience along the way!

We have a general election coming this year – and a likely change of government, with different agendas and priorities, all in the climate of public sector cuts which are already affecting services. Interesting times.

The personal hopes for last year involved me aiming to start the Practice Education branch of my Higher Specialist Award and indeed, I have started that  now.  I have initiated my first couple of Individual budgets and although I retain a healthy dose of scepticism, I am committed to making sure all the concerns I have are raised and in order to do so I have to embrace the changes so that I can speak from a position of knowledge rather than stand on the sidelines and complain about changes in general.

I have noticed in myself that I have become more confident in my work and practice. I think that is something that grows incrementally each year but this year I felt more confident. I think that is partly due to the management and colleagues around me and the ethos that exists in my team which is very supportive.

I also resolved to try and become more active in both UNISON and BASW. While UNISON has been jettisoned a little bit, I have been more involved in a number of ways with BASW and have enjoyed the process of becoming more engaged with the profession on a wider basis than my office or my local authority. It has been heartening to see BASW become more vocal and confident and I am interested to see where that path lies.

I know the decade ends in 2011, but for my purposes, I’ll use this as a chance to look back too – although briefly – because in 2000, I qualified as a social worker. I find myself 10 years down the line. Partly I’m surprised I lasted this long – many of my colleagues on that MA (as it was then!) course that I attended have moved into different careers or away from front line practice.

I have worked in Community Care Teams, moving into Mental Health in 2006, nonewithstanding the ‘lost’ years I spent in Italy doing nothing related to social work  but which remain possibly the best thing I ever did and instilled a wealth of experiences that have shaped who and where I am now. Professionally, I worked though more statutory focus on carers and direct payments through to the initiation of individual budgets and the personalisation agenda. The Delayed Discharge Act which saw local authorities being charged for hospital stays if they were unable to facilitate discharges and what seems sometimes like over speedy discharges from hospital. I wonder how far that line will run. It seems that all policies are pointing to more care in the home and away from institutions.

I also  trained as one of the last ASWs (approved social workers) – in fact, I was the last ASW warranted in my borough – in July 2008 before moving straight into the ASW to AMHP (approved mental health professional) conversion training.

Without doubt that training has been the most significant to my professional development over the last decade. Seeing the beginning of the DoLs (Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards) process and the mess that seems to exist within what looks like frankly sloppy legislation and protocols and being able to recognise it as sloppy, will no doubt be one of the key parts of the legacies the decade leaves in my service area. The scope of the Mental Capacity Act still has a lot to encompass and needs a lot of padding out – probably by case law.

It’s easier to look forward one year than ten so I’ll duck out of decade predications until next year.. but as for the coming year, I’ll put something together over the next few days.

For now, there’s still another working day left of the year.. but Happy New Year to all and thanks again for visiting.

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Ginkgo fails

USA Today reports that a research project studying the effectiveness (or not) of Ginkgo Biloba – a ‘traditional remedy’ thought to aid memory has shown that it has made absolutely no difference in affecting the cognitive decline or otherwise in older people.

The plus side for those reliant on the herb is that at the very least, it was found to cause no harmful effects which I suppose is a definite positive for those who use it regularly (and I’ve come across a few on my travels over the years!).

It’s interesting that the study was funded by the ‘National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ oops!

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Although unsurprisingly

Douglas MacKay, vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement industry trade group, disputes the study’s findings.

“There is a large body of previously published evidence, as well as ongoing trials, which suggest that ginkgo biloba is effective for helping to improve cognitive impairment in older adults,” he says.

Although it’s a case of ‘he would say that, wouldn’t he?’ I fear.

As the article from USA Today goes on to say

U.S. sales for ginkgo biloba were $99 million in 2008, down 8% from 2007 but still placing it the 8th most popular herb and botanical that the Nutrition Business Journal tracks.

And that’s an awful lot of money.

It’s not to say I’d be wishing it to fail. Believe me, I would love there to be something that would stem cognitive decline in any way, but I also think that selling false hopes is a cruel business and picks on our fears for profit.

Akmal Shaikh

Akmal Shaikh was killed this morning by the Chinese government. He was a convicted drug smuggler and China operates a system of capital punishment that decrees that such a crime should be punished by death.

His case has been raised partly due to circumstances which have led to his execution. Shaikh’s family have stated that he suffered from bipolar disorder and is said to have experienced some kinds of delusions which had led him to be ‘duped’ into carrying 4kg heroin with which he was found.  He wanted to make a record and save the world. He wanted to be a pop star.

Wanting to be a star is not necessarily any indication of mental instability but looking at some of the circumstances leading to his arrest as well as his belief systems, there does seem to be reasonable grounds for an assessment at least.

Reprieve, a charity working on his behalf as they do for other prisoners whose human rights are being violated, had been trying to arrange an independent medical assessment for Mr Skaikh over the past year – possibly longer – but were blocked by Chinese authorities.  They did, however, put together reams of evidence from experts, family members and people who had come into contact with Mr Skaikh in various capacities over the years to verify his delusional thoughts and mental ill-health – in fact, the Reprieve site, gives a robust summation of the circumstances leading to his conviction and ultimately his execution.

Various representations were made at various levels of the government however all amounted to little at the end and so Mr Skaikh died this morning.

Being firmly opposed to capital punishment on any level and for any offense, this again serves to compound my thoughts on the matter. Drug smuggling is wrong, of course it is. It should not go unpunished but these circumstances leave me with greater concern about the situations that exist around the world – not just for British citizens that we might hear about  but those who do not have the diplomatic force of overseas press (for what it’s worth) behind them.

Newspapers and various websites are filled with possible repercussions for diplomatic relations between Britain and China. I personally, don’t think there will be any longstanding repercussions there and time and circumstance will move on – but for Akmal Shaikh, it won’t.

Merry Christmas

Not really much to add except that I’m wishing everyone a happy, safe and peaceful Christmas time.

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And with that thought, I’m off to tend the turkey..

Of Snowiness

Really it was a fairly busy day yesterday. The person I had been scheduled to visit and had completely expected to be out when I called was actually in. Of course, he wouldn’t let me in but we managed a fairly useful chat through the front door and kitchen window. He had some choice words about ‘social workers’ but although I had clearly introduced myself (when he levered the front door open to see my face) he seemed quite happy to continue shouting in my direction for a while. At least we’ve tracked him down and he has agreed to further visits – hopefully beyond the front door but I’m happy to work it either way!

I also popped in to another visit that I had scheduled where there were some unexpected local difficulties with various care package issues over the Christmas holidays and a carer who had had some personal difficulties and I wanted to check that everything was in place and working as best it could.

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It started snowing when I made my way back to the office. By the time I arrived I resembled a snowman – completely covered in a sheet of white. And cold.

We joked amongst ourselves about having difficulties getting home but relying on the Transport for London website, I happily assured everyone that there were no problems on public transport. When one of the  less optimistic nurses muttered about having to spend the night in the office if it snowed too much, I happily said that if that were the case, I would walk home –it’s only 5 miles after all (I checked the distances on Google!).

As the snow began to fall more heavily and was obviously settling, we were told to leave early if necessary. That was at 4.30pm. Oh, how I cursed my previous jauntiness. One traffic jam, one broken bus, a long walk, a tube journey and another walk later, I arrived home just about 7.45pm.

The worst part was definitely trying to walk on what quickly became sheet ice.

The most inappropriately funny part was when the bus driver told us to stop moving around on the bus in case it started sliding downhill.

The stupidest part was that I didn’t just get the underground to start with and that I even made an attempt on the bus.

But you live and learn.