Posted by: ayrshirehealth | October 17, 2012

SPSP Fellowship – a personal reflection by @docherty_e

Empowering individuals

At the end of last week I returned from a study tour in Alaska. For three days, two colleagues and I spent time at the Southcentral foundation in Anchorage, hearing their remarkable story.

Southcentral Foundation is an Alaska Native health care organisation established in 1982 to “improve the health and social conditions of Alaska Native people, enhance culture, and empower individuals and families to take charge of their lives.”( In future blogs I’ll return to this visit but for this I wanted to discuss the journey that led to this visit.

Last year I was a successful applicant to the Scottish Patient Safety Fellowship programme.

The study trip to Alaska was the final part of the fellowship, to allow the fellows the opportunity to study and learn from areas of excellence in patient care across the world.

The Scottish Patient Safety Fellowship Programme was introduced with the expressed aims :-

  • to develop and strengthen clinical leadership capability to support the SPSP,
  • to contribute to the development of a long term quality improvement and patient safety culture,
  • to establish a learning support network for transformational leadership, and
  • to strengthen existing collaborations within NHS Scotland.


Much of the work I’ve been involved with has, at its heart, been directly related to the improvement of patient care. My first real introduction to improvement methodology and the model from improvement , as discussed by Susan Hannah and other within recent blogs, was  during the introduction of an Emergency Response Team within NHS Ayrshire and Arran. I won’t bore you with the functions of the team, but probably will bore you with how we implemented it. Prior to this any change I had been involved with was based on large scale change, with an agreed vision of the final “product”.  Sound familiar?

A group of experts have agreed on what we have to do, so let’s get on and do it. a “spray and pray” approach. Spray the change throughout the system and pray it works.

Senior members of the Scottish Patient Safety Programme nursed myself and others through the concepts of small cycles of changes and measuring improvement And it worked much more effectively than I could have anticipated.

When applications were asked to join the SPSP fellowship I jumped at it. I had an idea about the model of improvement and some exposure to the use of data, but knew I had to explore this in much more detail. Clearly an altruistic group, they accepted my application and allowed me to be part of the fourth group, or cohort, to go through the programme.

By the end of the first residential part of the programme i completely revised my beliefs in my background experience of the model for improvement and data. I thought I understood parts of it. I really didn’t. But the incredibly high level of teaching and support by the faculty quickly (attempted to) rectify this. I’m still learning.

At the same time, and throughout the programme, emphasis was placed on developing and honing leadership.

Speakers from Scottish Government and the highest echelons of NHS Scotland gave inspirational lectures and led discussions on the importance of clinical leadership and how it can be refined and supported with the use of the model of improvement and how vital data is in developing and improving services.

As the programme progressed we all had a self selected project to complete within our areas, using the techniques and strategies we were being shown. This theory and practice approach emphasised the “aliveness” of what we were learning and forced us to “walk the talk” (and doesn’t someone using parenthesis and inverted commas frequently become irritating?).

The projects became all consuming and indeed my own in sepsis has become a key focus to my role.

This project was supported by a strong mentoring system and I’m extremely grateful to Dan Beckett who mentored me, though I believe his therapy requirements have escalated.

At the same time working with the fellows, spending time with like minded clinical colleagues, was a key part of the process. Most of the programme is residential Making time in busy work schedules to be resident was a serious challenge, but invaluable. The flow of ideas, the constant synergy of being together for three days at a times was a catalyst to process.  Though if Catherine Labinjoh or Rhona Morrison ever suggest a “Hollywood style awards ceremony for faculty and cohort to finish up” again I may join Dan Beckett for therapy. ( A LONG story)

Being exposed to this level of support, direction education has fundamentally altered my approach to many of the challenges I face at work.

  • Have a theory     –     Test it     –     If it doesn’t work-change it     –     Test it again.
  • Take cognisance of generating data to support the changes.
  • Improve     –     Keep improving     –     Keep our patients safe     –     Make our systems better

Show that leadership and improvement science is a powerful combination.

@docherty_e is a nurse consultant for acutely unwell adult in NHS Ayrshire & Arran: and an SPSP Fellow.


Tomorrow’s #ayrshirehealth’s blog, on day 7 of 7, comes @micmac650 who is an Associate Medical Director and consultant nephrologist in NHS Ayrshire & Arran


  1. […] SPSP Fellowship – a personal reflection by Eddie Docherty on the  Ayrshire Health blog. […]

  2. […] SPSP Fellowship – a personal reflection by Eddie Docherty […]

  3. […]  The blog Lesson from Nuka – the Alaskan healthcare system follows on from a previous blog (SPSP Fellowship – a personal reflection) by @docherty_e for ayrshirehealth.  The blog describes the Nuka system as “a relationship […]

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