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A good story to tell

02 May 2014

A blog featuring good news from the NHS has turned into a good-news story of its own, discovers Pat Ashworth

NO ONE is more surprised than the Revd David Southall at the figure of almost 220,000 hits on his Chaplain's Blog at the Worcester Royal Hospital.

Mr Southall started the blog a year ago, as a public forum for telling good news from the Royal, the Alexandra Hospital at Redditch, and the Kidderminster Hospital; good news being what he has described as an antidote to fight the "national infection" of a poor perception of the NHS, and people's consequent fear of going into hospital.

Mr Southall, a Baptist ministerin a chaplaincy team with two Anglican colleagues (the Revd Guy Hewlett, and the Revd David Ryan), has been in post for five years.

A former community psychiatric nurse, he arrived in the wake of the very public débâcle that ensued when the Worcestershire NHS Trust proposed, in 2006, to axe the full-time chaplain's post from the Royal, along with all part-time help, leaving one chaplain to cover all three hospitals.

The proposal - fiercely contested by the then Bishop of Worcester, Dr Peter Selby, and the then RC Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, and eventually overturned - had been made despite the recommendations of an affirming report into NHS chaplaincy in 2003.

"All this had left its mark, but things settled down. We got on with our day-jobs," Mr Southall said. "A new Trust Board was appointed which was sympathetic to what spiritual care meant, and which valued chaplaincy. It gave myself and my colleagues almost permission to fly."

The blog arose out of a series of unrelated conversations in church and hospital, and on day-to-day duties. A patient volunteered to Mr Southall: "I've been coming here for 11 years, and never had anything but the best treatment."

All this coalesced, he says, into the need for somewhere to say it. "The local press here are likely to publish good stories, but if you only read the newspapers, you would generally get a very poor idea of what goes on. 

"I count it as privilege to be a conduit for good individual stories, and see myself as trying to redress a balance. My intuition is that a huge proportion of people go away from these three hospitals having been treated with respect, compassion, and kindness."

His view is borne out by testimony such as this, from a mother whose daughter had suffered a late miscarriage. She writes of the goodness of the staff at every level, and most particularly the nurses.

"I lost count of how often I saw them work beyond their designated shift times to ensure [N's] well-being," she says.

"Their clear knowledge and understanding of her circumstances, and their swift action at the most difficult time, exemplified the very best of human endeavour."

There are many simpler examples, too: a lost earring of sentimental value only, found by a ward clerk after the patient had gone home, and restored to her.

They are marks of humanity, Mr Southall suggests. "If you can communicate to people that they are valued, they can do tremendous things," he says. "I'm no management expert, but happy and valued staff are not being hit over the head all the time."

The blog has helped to raise the profile of the chaplaincy, and Mr Southall has received the annual achievement award of the chairman of the Trust, presented by the local MP, Robin Walker. "That could never have happened four years ago," he says.

"Chaplains are recognised not just on the wards but at board level, knowing we add value to the service, doing what chaplains up and down the country are doing." 


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