Kissing it Better is about sharing simple ideas. It is also about engaging and enabling talented and caring members of a community to come in to local hospitals or care homes and make a difference to people who might be feeling vulnerable or lonely – whether they be patients, relatives or friends.
Kissing it Better is also about trust.
Our most successful projects work best in hospitals where we gain that trust from a Board who believe in us. Once they have made the decision to use us, they don't spend time endlessly checking our every move. They invite us in to deliver our service in the hope that we will provide, in a short space of time, a multitude of stimulating activities that bring pleasure, tender loving care and also break the monotony of long hospital days. In many cases, we can begin to deliver this care within days.
Sadly, though, all too often it is a different story. Endless hospital processes and a lack of trust means that it can take months before we can even set foot on a hospital ward and start to make a difference.
As a charity, we always research any community group we engage with to ensure they offer the kind of service that is appropriate to patients, or residents of a care home. This may be a choir singing popular songs to trigger damaged memories, or a drama group reading famous poetry for the same reason (Shakepeare to Winnie the Pooh). Or it may be a dog charity bringing in carefully checked dogs to lift the spirits. The list is endless. All members of our team have massive experience in this area of work
When we invite a group to be involved in our charity, we want them to know we are hugely grateful for whatever they can provide. They don’t charge for their valuable time and so we try to make sure they get the best possible experience. As a thank you we try to give something back to them. For instance, we might be able to get them some publicity for their work or to go into a school and give a talk.
In short, we approach a link with any community group as one would a friendship. We take the view that, in the end, we all ditch the friend who uses us, so we work hard to maintain our relationships. Sadly, hospitals do not always take the same approach.
In many hospitals, the need to do endless checks on groups, above and beyond our own systems at Kissing it Better, can take ages. When several people at the hospital insist on meeting a group before they come to a hospital, it may take several months for a mutually convenient time to be established by which time vital early momentum and enthusiasm has been lost. At best it is time wasting for groups who are already giving up their precious time to help the hospital. At worst the bureaucracy and too much irrelevant information can put them off altogether.
I could give countless examples of various wonderful initiatives which have been stopped or delayed. Here is a flavour:
1. a singing session challenged because an unlaminated music sheet was spotted by a senior nurse
2. a choir turned away because no one had checked if a PFI building was insured for singers (they were planning to singin the hospital's large open-plan restaurant)
3. student beauticians, under supervision from their tutors and hospital volunteers, abruptly stopped from offering wonderfully relaxing hand massages and manicures to anxious patients in an outpatients department even though they had been offering this free care, with the full permission of senior management, for the past seven months.
4. a demand, from one hospital, that all visiting groups must produce evidence of all childhood vaccinations, including BCG and have had the current flu jab. It was only stopped when I pointed out that BCG and flu vaccinations are not given routinely.
As a visitor, I can enter a hospital with a string of convictions, filthy clothes and a terrible cough. I may bring a patients an unlaminated magazine or newspaper. No one will ask any questions.
Our own groups simply want to help for a few hours a week or a month. And they are always accompanied by one or more CRB checked volunteers during their visit. So are all these time-consuming additional checks really necessary?
Endless delays and bureaucracy mean the work of Kissing it Better is being hugely compromised. Time that we could be spending on seeking out wonderful groups in the community is increasingly being spent on endless meetings and duplication of checks. It is so demoralising for our own staff who feel, increasingly, that their own expertise and judgment is being challenged repeatedly - often by staff who have far less experience in this field as themselves.
If it were not for the horrific memory of my own mother sitting in a chair for hours every day staring at a wall with no picture on it, I would have given up long ago. Endless processes stopped her own grandchild from singing to her as part of a group of four madrigal singers.
Last October Kissing it Better received The Nursing Times Care of Older People Award for our work at Walsall Manor hospital - a excellent example of a hospital who, although keeping a careful eye on us, trusts us to get on with our work in the way that we feel is best. We always give massive, detailed feedback of our work and we have been delighted with the response from across the UK ( see below for some feedback).
So hospitals everywhere, please use your common sense. Trust those organisations whom you have employed to enhance your patient care.
If you don't use them sensibly, you will lose them.
'We are all delighted with the service. It has been amazing.' Geraldine Cunningham, Associate Director of Nursing at Whipps Cross
'Dear Jill, this is fantastic news, you really are bringing the community together. Many thanks Theresa Murphy, Director of Nursing at North Middlesex Hospital
'Jill has been a great catalyst for change and we have now recruited a number of volunteers to specifically lead on this work in the future' Kathryn Halford, Associate Director of Nursing, Walsall Manor Hospital
‘Thanks you so much for all your help we are very proud to be working with you,’ Helen Lancaster, Director of Nursing, South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust
‘Helen has told me about your Nursing Times Award. I just wanted to add my congratulations. I was also very impressed to see you on the One Show. Keep up the great work, your enthusiasm is infectious ‘ Glen Burley Chief Executive, South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust