Schoolchildren from across Dundee have been given a shot of inspiration by Scots billionaire Sir Tom Hunter as part of an event to find new ways of tackling issues affecting young people.
Around 120 youngsters attended Abertay University’s Innovation Lab as part of a design initiative to tackle bullying, stress and mental health issues.
It is hoped new methods developed during the session as part of the national Year of the Young People 2018 could go on to directly influence Dundee City Council policies.
Sir Tom, who delivered a welcome to the participants before a day of design, brainstorming, workshops and presentations, hailed the importance of involving youngsters in shaping decisions.
He said: “Putting policy into the hands of those the policies will impact upon makes absolute sense.
“Our young people are Scotland’s future and we need to engage with them far more to co-design that future where opportunity prevails for all.”
Groups of youngsters in attendance were made up of S4 to S6 pupils from all Dundee schools, as well as others aged up to 26 years old from organisations such as Lift Off, Family Nurse Partnership, Dundee Carers Centre and Dundee Youth Council.
They also heard a closing address by Gavin Oattes, award-winning entrepreneur and motivational speaker for workshop provider Tree of Knowledge.
Ideas from the day will be collated and presented back to city councillors, with the aim of informing future policy, affecting change and creating a legacy of service improvement for future generations.
Dundee City Council children and families service convener Stewart Hunter said it had been a “fantastic experience for everyone who took part” and a “fitting way of celebrating the Year of Young People”.
He added: “The input of young people into a range of topics will lead to some very interesting ideas and I will be very interested to hear their opinions on these issues.”
In addition to the workshops, the young people also took part in taster sessions across a selection of Abertay’s academic departments.
Those on offer included Games and Arts, Cybersecurity, Marketing, Business Management, Accounting and Finance, Law, Food Innovation, Forensics, Science, Civil Engineering, Sociology, Psychology and Mental Health.
Abertay University principal Professor Nigel Seaton said: “Bringing young people into the decision making process for new policy on these important issues is a fantastic idea.
“I have no doubt that Innovation Lab will bring a fresh perspective to the table.
Every day in Scotland, an average of two people die from suicide.
It is the leading cause of death among people aged 20-34 in the UK – with the rate considerably higher among men.
Sadly, it’s an issue all too familiar to many in Dundee – so much so that it’s led to intense scrutiny of local mental health services and an inquiry being launched. All last week, events were held to highlight the issue for Suicide Prevention Week. As part of that, the Tele has spoken to four people who have attempted to take their own lives, about their experiences and how they came through them.
They’re all members of the Blue Wings group, set up in Dundee by Robbie Russell after his frustration grew at the “underfunded” mental health services on offer in Tayside.
The group previously led calls for patrols to be introduced to the Tay Road Bridge, following a number of incidents involving people contemplating suicide or taking their lives on the crossing.
Dave Johnston, 43, from Claverhouse, became aware of suicide in a previous workplace.
He said: “Part of my day-to-day work involves taxying when my other operation is out of season so I quite regularly meet people in the taxis who experience mental health problems and suicidal tendencies. My own personal belief is that people are let down by the system.
“Right now if someone goes up to Carseview, they’ll be turned away on the vast majority of occasions without any treatment at all.”
Although the issue is common throughout Tayside, Dave said he has seen people around him being afraid to admit their dark thoughts to the authorities, calling for more effort to bring understanding to the system.
Dave said: “I’ve got experience from speaking to somebody very recently who had attempted their own life and were taken to Carseview.
“They were taken overnight and their only experience the next morning was that a police surgeon spoke to them and asked if they still felt suicidal. Nobody in their right mind would say yes because they don’t want to be kept in police custody and they were released that morning.”
He said including people who have experienced suicide themselves is needed in the system.
He said: “The folk that deal with these issues day in and day out may have ideas about it but perhaps the best people to talk to them and give them advice are the people that are suffering from the problems themselves.
“We still live in a very macho environment where it’s seen as a weakness to speak about these types of things. It’s not a weakness, it’s an illness.”
Robbie Russell, 28, from Arbroath, said he became angry and lonely during his teenage years, eventually attempting suicide at age 16 for the first time.
He said: “I was fine when I was younger, but when I got to my teenage years, I was quite angry.
“I was seen as a bad kid.
“I was never recognised as someone with mental health issues. It followed me into my late teens – I started getting arrested and turned to drugs as a shield to get out of it but it didn’t work.”
Robbie said he struggled to open up about the way he was feeling.
He added: “It was instilled into me about pride. You’re a man, you’re not really supposed to have feelings.
“That’s not the case – we’re all human and everyone feels an emotion and everyone should be allowed to express it.
“The first person I told was my mum. She’s always been my rock, I have always been a bit of a mummy’s boy. She has talked me out of a lot of situations.”
At his most vulnerable, Robbie started hiding under his bed and felt like he was not being taken seriously.
“I was let down by the system. Back then, there was far too much ignorance – everyone was just playing you off like you’re an attention-seeker,” he said.
Robbie later founded the Blue Wings group to help others who were feeling suicidal with the hope of developing the Facebook group into a charity.
“I started getting a lot better and opening up a lot more than I used to,” he said.
“I started accepting things a lot more.”
Aged 13, Tina Grant, from Douglas, tried to take her own life for the first time. She said she would do anything to get the pain she was feeling out of her head.
Tina said: “I felt dead for such a long time. I tried to do pills, slit my wrists, drink, everything.
“I didn’t know how to deal with it all so I thought that was the only way to do it.
“When you’re in a dark place and have so many bad things going on in your life, you just want to escape it.”
Tina, now 35, went through her suicide attempts for two years before telling her mum.
She said: “I hid it from my mum and stepdad for a long time and when they actually saw the razor on my wrists, that is when they got the help for me when I was about 15.
“I never really had anyone to talk to and speaking to someone is such a helpful tool.”
Although Tina admits she has not fully recovered from feelings of suicide, she is able to face the day more easily after opening up to other people.
She said: “I still deal with it now but I’m dealing with it a lot better because instead of turning to drink, I talk to my friends and family and that makes me feel so much better.
“It was like a weight had been lifted off me and I felt like a new person.
“I felt happier, freer and alive.”
Now, Tina is looking to get into care work and help others who are feeling suicidal.
She said: “If nobody knows of the groups available to you, go online and talk to people – it’s the best thing to do. Nobody is alone.”
Gavin Elliot, 20, from Broughty Ferry, has been on the edge of the Tay Road Bridge three times and still feels like he has not overcome his suicidal thoughts.
He said: “I was in care since I was about seven. Life was tough from the beginning.
“I tried multiple times to kill myself – whether it was sticking scissors to my throat, jumping off the bridge, trying to hang myself, trying to suffocate myself.
“Anything that I could try, I tried it because I thought the only way out was to end myself.”
He added: “Last time I tried was two years ago when my father passed away.
“I was at the edge of the Tay Road Bridge on the other side of the barrier when police came and they pulled me away.”
Gavin said he kept himself hidden from the world and only started talking to others when his support workers noticed.
He said: “Every day I’d wake up in the morning and think, why? What’s the point in me waking up when it is the same old routine every day? I would spend months on end in my house alone with no visitors – no physical contact, nothing. I sat alone and blocked everyone out.”
After ending up on the bridge, he was taken to Dundee’s Carseview mental health facility but said he did not receive much support.
“People at Carseview would look at me, say I was OK and send me home without any treatment whatsoever,” he claimed.
To get his life back on track, Gavin said he turned to BMXing which has helped him through his difficulties.
After just two years in the job a Scots nurse will this month quit her hospital post because she says staff “are on their knees”
Susan, a mum in her 40s, can no longer cope with the pressure-cooker atmosphere in wards where mentally ill patients are placed alongside the terminally ill receiving palliative care.
She is sick of working excessive hours to help plug the gaps, sick of being verbally abused and sick of having to dodge
punches and flying objects from patients who should be in mental health wards.
Susan – not her real name – said: “I had got to the point where I was given so much responsibility as a junior nurse and I felt it was too unsafe so I have decided enough is enough.
“We are getting a lot of patients in acute general wards who are unsuitable. They are more suited to psychiatric wards but the trouble is they have cut beds.
“I have been punched and pushed about and you get verbal aggression towards you. I was punched when I hadn’t long started.
“They throw anything that is at hand. They pick up chairs and try to throw them. When I was last on shift, there were seven out of 24 patients on my ward with mental health issues, two of them violent.”
She said clinical support workers are assigned to violent patients but if their condition gets too bad, a mental health nurse has to be brought in – usually from an agency – costing up to £2000 per patient per day.
She claimed some mental health patients are in general wards for ages waiting for appropriate places.
She said: “On my last shift, we had three who had been there from three months to a year. They are medically fit but can’t just be discharged.
“They are alongside palliative patients, who are not getting the dignity, peace and quiet to die in peace. The nurses and doctors try their best to accommodate everybody but the NHSis in crisis.”
And while she remains “passionate” about the work she does, Susan can no longer handle the responsibilities.
She has witnessed mistakes made with medication because of the inexperience of newly qualified staff.
She said: “I have seen medication errors being made with drugs you have to sign out, like morphine-based ones or stronger analgesia.
“If it’s two new nurses working on shift together, which shouldn’t happen but it does, they don’t have the experience to know the differences between quick acting and long acting drugs and it is very easy to get them mixed up. Some mistakes have been quite serious but they have managed to get to them in time.”
But she said drug runs are constantly interrupted.
She said: “We used to wear a red tabard which said, ‘Do not disturb – drug round in progress’ but they took them away because the tabards weren’t getting washed so there were infection control concerns.
“Now there is nothing in place to say to a family member, ‘Please don’t interrupt this nurse doing her drug rounds’.”
Instead of working to an NHS contract, Susan will resign this month and take on nurse bank work where she will be able to pick her hours, won’t have to do overtime and will not be put in charge of a ward.
Susan, who works on a general medical ward, said after qualifying there wasn’t much support for new nurses. She added: “I was basically put in on my first shift, handed my keys and that was it. It was a case of sink or swim. I was lucky I was able to keep my head above water but there is an awful lot of pressure.
“The other nurses I worked alongside were absolutely amazing but they don’t have time to help newly qualified nurses so it was a struggle.”
There’s a new batch of nurses coming into hospitals soon and some will go where there are shortages.
One ward is to get five new nurses. But Susan said: “To me that is a safety issue because they don’t have the skill mix to put on the rota – where there are more skilled nurses working alongside the junior nurses to keep them right.
“Safety is a massive thing because a lot of nurses are leaving and just doing bank work and a lot of nurses are off with stress and anxiety.” Susan has had to make formal reports when she felt there were not enough staff to run the ward safely.
She said: “My ward has 24 patients. We have three staff nurses, that’s eight patients each to be responsible for, but it goes down to two at night so you have 12 patients each.
“But even eight patients is too much for the nurse in charge with all her other duties. We have to rely so heavily on clinical support workers. They see the patients more than the nurses do. It is soul destroying.”
Staff shortages are so great that nurses are encouraged to do extra hours as bank nurses to make up the shortfall. Susan explained: “We can work 40 hours a week on the bank and 37.5 hours on the ward so we can work up to 77 hours a week.
“We are not forced to do bank shifts but we are made to feel guilty if we don’t because you don’t want to let your colleagues down. You are shattered. But sometimes you have to take a step back and say, ‘I’m done’, you physically can’t do any more.”
She added: “Lots of nurses who qualified at the same time as me have already left or are planning to quit to go on bank. For me the pressure was so bad I had to quit for my own sanity.”
Theresa Fyffe, Royal College of Nursing Scotland director, said: “Sadly, this echoes what I hear from frontline nursing staff across Scotland.”
Labour’s health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “We have a workforce crisis in our NHS. Unless we have adequate staffing more and more of our hard-working staff will walk away.”
Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton called Susan’s revelations “desperately troubling”.
He said: “We have long known about the crisis in our workforce but the depth of that crisis is laid bare in these revelations.”
Frances Dodd, NHS Lanarkshire acute divisional nurse director, insisted: “The safety of staff and patients is of paramount importance. We have mandatory training for appropriate staff to enable them to manage challenging situations.
“Staff who work extra shifts through the staff bank, do so on a voluntary basis.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said they recognised “pressures in our nursing workforce” and said while there has been an increase of almost six per cent in the number of qualified nurses, they were determined to “go further to ensure a sustainable nursing workforce long into the future.”
A WHISTLEBLOWER’S champion at a scandal-hit health board has quit claiming serious issues were being ignored.
Munwar Hussain has stood down from NHS Tayside board and written to the First Minister and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to raise his concerns.
He had been appointed the board’s whistleblowing champion – a role meant to ensure staff’s concerns were treated seriously – in April and was also chair of the board’s staff governance committee and a member of the audit and remuneration committees.
Yesterday, he told the Sunday Post: “I have decided to resign my position from NHS Tayside.
“I am on stress leave from this role. I have taken the decision not to return when my leave expires and I have notified the chairman.
“Certain matters were escalated to me that were serious and cause for concern. I, in turn, highlighted these issues to the chairman and others. I feel that I have not been given the appropriate assurances that these important matters are being dealt with. I have put the range of my concerns in writing to the cabinet secretary and the First Minister. I am still waiting on a reply.”
He refused to detail the issues he raised, but added: “I feel it’s serious but they are not taking it seriously.”
NHS Tayside confirmed Mr Hussain has resigned with effect from October 17, adding: “We can confirm that Mr Hussain raised concerns relating to one particular case and this is currently under investigation.”
He is one of three resignations from the board, also including the vice-chair Stephen Hay and Doug Cross, chair of the finance and resources committee. All three are members of the audit committee.
They have stood down after both the chief executive and chair left their posts after it emerged NHS Tayside had taken charitable donations to pay for an IT system.
NHS Tayside said: “Non-executive members of Tayside NHS Board Doug Cross, Stephen Hay and Munwar Hussain have decided to step down from the board and will leave over the next few weeks.”
The departures come as two reports into the financial scandals at NHS Tayside are expected to be published in the coming weeks.
The crisis at NHS Tayside emerged earlier this year when it was revealed more than £2 million had been taken from its endowment fund – made up of public donations and bequests from wills – to cover the costs of new IT systems in 2014.
Auditors also found accounts had been “misrepresented”, with a practice of using funds earmarked for e-health initiatives to offset general expenditure since 2012.
It led to the resignation of chair Professor John Connell in April after then Health Secretary Shona Robison took the unusual step of calling for him to step down.
Chief executive Lesley McLay was effectively removed from her post in the same month and left at the end of July after going off on sick leave.
The charity regulator OSCR launched an inquiry into the use of Tayside NHS Board’s endowment fund, which is expected to report by the end of September.
Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson, Anas Sarwar MSP, said: “These resignations throw NHS Tayside into fresh turmoil, and members of the public will rightly want to know what caused half of the committee to dramatically resign.”
Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary, added: “NHS Tayside has been limping from one controversy to another, so both the timing and the nature of the resignations will raise questions.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Ministers are aware of these resignations and would like to thank those members for their contribution to NHS Tayside. Any issues raised around whistleblowing will be fully explored in accordance with existing NHS whistleblowing policy.”