Home Health

By Jennifer Dixon, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Health and healthcare policy have been a matter for the separate administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland since devolution in the late 1990s. While there have been many similarities in the policies the four UK countries since then, there have been some very high profile differences.

For example, developing competition between providers has been championed in England but rejected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The split of purchasing from the provision of care was reversed in Scotland and Wales, but kept in England and Northern Ireland. And in Scotland and Wales prescription charges were scrapped, and free personal social care made more widely available in Scotland.

But what effect, if any, have these policy differences had on overall performance? To find out, we at the Health Foundation along with the Nuffield Trust commissioned researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the London School of Economics to measure performance against 22 indicators, including mortality rates (avoidable deaths), life expectancy and ambulance response times. Drawing on largely publicly available data up to 2011-12, and in some instances 2012-13, the subsequent report revealed some interesting results.

Of the four nations, England performed marginally better in a number of areas including mortality rates, life expectancy and ambulance response times. However, nurse staffing levels were lower than in the other three countries. In Scotland, waiting times for planned surgery were down (similar to England) as were ambulance response times.

Wales on the other hand did not do as well when it came to waiting times, which have deteriorated since 2010, particularly for common procedures such as hip or knee operations. The difference between the typical waiting time for one of these procedures in Wales in 2012-13, for example, was 170 days compared to just 70 in England and Scotland.

Northern Ireland has improved on most indicators, but MRSA mortality rates still remain higher than in both England and Wales.

What this means and for whom

Four major messages come from what we found. The first is for the public. On the national indicators analysed, there were improvements across all four countries in investment, staffing levels, amount of activity provided and health outcomes. This is good news, although there is clearly a marked variation in performance within each country.

The second is for politicians. The main message here is that while the overall set of policies is producing results, no one policy cocktail consistently produces faster improvements over another, despite all the rhetoric.

This may be because there are many more similarities in policies than differences across all four nations. Or that where there are policy differences, they haven’t yet made enough of a difference to show up in the indicators. Some humility then is needed by politicians of all political stripes; how the health systems perform seems to be influenced far more by a bigger set of forces.

However, the data suggests that there may be two exceptions, both of which can be influenced by politicians. One of these is funding: the study period coincided with a large growth in public funding for healthcare, which can be associated with the improvements seen in performance. However, between 2010-11 and 2012-13, Wales saw a reduction in spending, potentially the reason for the lengthening of waiting times.

The second exception is targets and performance management. The data suggest that clear targets and strong performance management – as in the case of waiting times and rates of hospital acquired infection – produce results. This seems to be the case in Scotland, where waiting times on a range of indicators show marked improvement, particularly over the last five years. And part of the reason why, in Wales, performance against the less-stringent targets for waiting times has dipped since 2010, may not just be because of changes in funding, but because of less emphasis on the English-style tight performance management.

This isn’t a message for politicians to let rip with a vast number of targets and go for a heavy grip. Too many targets demoralise staff, cause collateral damage (other local priorities pushed aside) and can lead to stressed staff altering the figures.

The third major message in the report is for local staff: the managers, nurses and doctors. More than anything, it looks as though performance of the health system is down to you. Our study looked closely at the performance of one region in England (the north-east) relative to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, because it was more similar on a number of characteristics than England as a whole. In the north east of England, a combination of faster funding growth, plus local conditions, seem to have produced the most marked reduction in mortality over the last two decades.

The fourth message is for the treasury. Probably due, in part, to devolution, it is becoming harder to compare data across the four countries over time, as all four countries decide to define data differently. If achieving value for money in public services is an objective of the treasury, isn’t it time to exert some leverage to expect all four countries to collect and count data in the same way, as well as do it their own way?

The issue that looms large is the impact of large scale reforms of the health system of the type we have seen in England, with the implantation of the Health & Social Care Act. Received wisdom is that the disruption it has caused will produce a dent in the trend for improvement in England relative to the other UK countries. But we’ll have to wait for the next instalment of the study to find out.

The Conversation

Jennifer Dixon is Chief Executive of the Healthcare Foundation charity. She is also She is also a trustee of NatCen Social Research and a member of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) board.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The 2014 shortlist announced

A mouthwatering competition has been set up in the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Whisky Awards, with eight of the region’s finest malts set to battle it out for honours in the eagerly anticipated annual contest.

BenRiach goes head to head with Knockando

BenRiach goes head to head with Knockando

A judging panel comprising industry leaders, acclaimed writers and specialist retailers whittled down 46 entries at a blind tasting event at the Knockomie Hotel in Forres this week before finally settling on their finalists in four categories.

And now that the experts have shortlisted the final drams, the power of determining the overall winners will be handed over to visitors to the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. A series of roving judging sessions at which festival-goers will get to blind taste all of the shortlisted entries is being staged during the Festival, which takes place from May 1 to 5.

Ben Riach 12-year-old and Knockando12-year-old will go head to head in the 12-year-old and under category, while the Balvenie 15-year-old and the Singleton 18-year-old will compete in the section for malts aged 13 to 20 years.

Pot Stills by Forsyths

Pot Stills by Forsyths

In the 21-year-old and over category, the finalists are Glenfarclas 30-year-old and Cardhu 21-year-old, while in the section for distillery special editions Tamdhu 10-year-old will go up against the Glenfarclas 25-year-old.

The awards are sponsored by coppersmiths Forsyths of Rothes – the company responsible for building many of the pot stills in which the shortlisted single malts were distilled.

James Campbell, chairman of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, says, “In some ways it must be a dream job for our expert panel to spend a day nosing and judging such high quality Scotch malt whiskies, but on the other hand they face an immensely difficult challenge. The whisky produced on Speyside is among the best in the world – deciding which entries are worthy of making the final is an almost impossible task.”

Penny Ellis Power to the People

Penny Ellis
Power to the People

Whisky writer Penny Ellis, a director of the Festival who also organises the awards, adds, “This is the only whisky awards in the world where the power to decide the overall winners is handed over to members of the public. However, the Festival is all about people: the people with the passion that drives production of our malt whisky, and the people who are passionate supporters of our national drink.

“The roving judging sessions are a great opportunity for our visitors to also take the blind taste test, and for them to sample some of the best whiskies that Speyside has to offer. Visitors may have their own favourite malt, but tasting it blind means that they cannot be influenced by presentation or brand loyalty – all they have to go on is smell and taste.”

The roving judging sessions take place at Ugie House Hotel, Keith on April 25; Glenfiddich Distillery, Dufftown on April 30; The Drouthy Cobbler, Elgin on May 1; Aberlour Hotel, Aberlour, Richmond Memorial Hall, Tomintoul and Macdonald Aviemore Highland Resort on May 2; Stuart Arms, Dufftown and Rothes Social Club on May 3; and Forsyths Coppersmiths, Rothes on May 4.

The final judging will take place here in May

The final judging will take place here in May

The final judging session and awards prize-giving will take place – along with a ceilidh – at Glen Grant Distillery in Rothes on May 4.

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, which is now in its 15th year, takes place at venues across the region, which is widely regarded as the spiritual home of the Scotch whisky industry. A signature event for Homecoming 2014, it will start Whisky Month – a four week national celebration of Scotland’s world class food and drink.

It will also launch a brand new event this year – The Spirit of Speyside Sessions – which aims to put to spotlight on the area’s traditional music heritage with concerts and ceilidhs being staged in venues closely linked to the whisky industry.

Tickets for all events in the 2014 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival programme, including the roving judging sessions, can be bought via the website.

Gothenburg pubs – once a more common sight

by Andrew McDonald & Philip Denning
with original photographs supplied by Ryan Sturrock

Scotland's drink problem costs the country dear

Scotland’s drink problem costs the country dear

Minimum pricing of alcohol is routinely served up by the Scottish Government as a solution to Scotland’s chronic alcohol problem with its attendant horrendous cost to society in terms of impact on ill health, premature death, crime, and violence, including sectarian, gratuitous incidents. The estimated cost of alcohol misuse in Scotland has been calculated at £900 per adult per year according to a University of York study in 2010, amounting to a cost of between £2.4 and £4.6 billion. Crime related costs to society were put at £727.1 million, health costs at £268.8 million, with social care cost coming in at £230.5 million. The human cost of suffering, namely premature death, was calculated at £1.46 billion.

No one disagrees that Scotland has a very real drinking problem. Indeed, since 1950 Scottish alcohol consumption has more than doubled whilst consumption in most EU countries has fallen. Additionally, Scots drink more than their English and Welsh counterparts, with over 16 year olds in Scotland drinking the equivalent of 23 units a week against just over 19 in England in Wales. Scotland has a higher consumption of spirits at 295 against an English and Welsh statistic of 20%. Binge drinking is a particular problem, with the consumption of spirits and alco pops being cited as a source of all evil.

Pubs closing at 3 a week

Pubs closing at 3 a week

Meanwhile, Scotland’s pubs are closing down at the rate of 3 per week according to a report published in January this year by the Campaign for Real Ale (Society), the rate is 16 per week throughout the UK. The smoking ban, high business rates, high taxation on alcohol and the cheap availability of carry home alcohol are all contributory factors. So, what is to be done to ameliorate Scotland’s drinking problems and ‘under the influence’ culture? Could part of the solution to curbing binge drinking be a cultural one and be found in Scotland’s past?

Goth pubs, public houses run on the Gothenburg principles of ‘disinterested management,’ were once a feature of Scotland’s industrial landscape especially from the late 19th Century through to the mid 20th. These were pioneer philanthropic pubs that ploughed a percentage of their profits into community endeavours. They also stood for sensible, moderate drinking. From the 1890s such public houses sprang up in the Lothians, Fife, Ayrshire, and Stirling in mining communities. These were ‘model’ pubs based on Swedish Gothenburg principles of controlling drunkenness and alcohol abuse.

Goth pubs arrived in Scotland from Sweden

Goth pubs arrived in Scotland from Sweden

In Sweden, Goths were public institutions that used profits to develop municipal and community purposes giving 5% dividend to shareholders and the rest of the profits to good causes. This system of regulating drinking and ploughing profits into benevolent causes had its roots in the Swedish temperance movement pioneered In Gothenburg where from 1865 a law was passed which allowed pubs to become trusts. The idea of a Gothenburg company running public houses and regulating alcohol consumption to temper binge drinking, with a percentage of profits transferred to the local municipality was born.

Goths - places of socially responsible drinking

Goths – places of socially responsible drinking

Goths migrated to Scotland on the back of strong sea trading links with Gothenburg. Interestingly, Goths in Scotland were a product of a period in history when social movements were collectivist in nature, so they emerged at the same time as trades unions, co-ops, friendly societies, and the Labour Party being born out of the womb of the unions. Clearly, Goths were a manifestation of the late 19th century moves towards social movements that were based on principles of solidarity, fraternity, mutuality and cooperation. Co-terminously, legislatively, in Scotland, The Providential Societies Act of 1893 permitted profits from alcohol sales to be used to provide civic amenities.

Accordingly, Goths evolved as places for responsible drinking and were mainly found in Scottish mining communities where the mine owners, who applied for alcohol licences and set up the Goth pubs, wanted to regulate drinking as a means of paternal or enlightened management based on employer self interest. In short, the mines needed efficient sober workers. One exception was the Goth Hotel in Rosyth which grew out of the industrial womb of the Royal Naval Dockyard, and Rosyth’s utopian urban planning desire to become a ‘Garden City.’ Goths clearly were the product of industrial capitalism.

Profits from The Dean Tavern funded local amenities

Profits from The Dean Tavern funded local amenities

In their heyday, Goth Profits from alcohol were invested in public parks, district nurses, ambulances, bowling greens, libraries, pavilions, and even a cinema was built with profits from The Dean Tavern Goth in Newtongrange, Midlothian., was founded in 1899, set up by the Lothian Coal Company. It is still a practicing Goth today as are the Prestoungrange Goth in Prestonpans, The Goth in Armadale, and the Fallin public House in Stirling.

Sadly, Goths in Scotland declined after the mines were nationalised in 1947 because the nationalised board did not see running pubs as being part of their business model.

Meanwhile, pubs were nationalised in the Gretna, Carlisle, Cumbria regions between 1916 and 1971, under the ‘Carlisle Experiment,’ with 235 pubs and 5 breweries being nationalised over a 300 mile radius. In these pubs ‘treating’ was not permitted, you were not allowed to buy a round of drinks and the emphasis for the manager of the pub who was paid a living wage was placed on selling food rather than drink.

Nationalisation of these pubs occurred because Gretna was the site of the world’s largest explosives factory and Lloyd George the Minister for Munitions, May 1915 – June, 1916, did not want drunks blowing up the munitions factory. There was also the ‘shells scandal’ in May, 1915, where military failure at the Battle of Aubers Ridge was blamed on munitions shortages attributed to high rates of absenteeism amongst munitions workers due to drunkenness. Lloyd George was quoted as saying that during World War 1 that, ‘drink is doing us more damage than all the German submarines put together.’ Nationalised pubs lasted until 1971 when Edward Heath sold off the assets.

Today most people view pubs as destroying communities, yet the Goth, and the nationalisation experience, both demonstrate that pubs can develop communities. History shows us that Goth pubs brought visible gains and improvements to the communities in which they were located. Surely today given Scotland’s well documented apocalyptic alcohol problem the revival of the Goth pub phenomenon would help bring a cultural solution to the war on booze?

Surely, the Gothenburg system of public house management offers some insight into how Scotland could begin to look at changing the drink culture in Scotland? Surely, a public health strategy that links health promotion to community action could surely help reverse Scotland’s drinking culture? Surely, Goths as repositories of community activity would help regulate alcohol, develop what is called ‘social capital’ and bring health benefits? If we are serious about changing Scotland’s drink culture then we should learn from history, then surely, it’s a case of, cheers and back to the future? Otherwise, Scotland is indeed in the last chance saloon…


Andrew McDonald and Philip Denning are Community Learning & Development professionals, writing in a personal capacity.
Ryan Sturrock is a multi media graduate.

The death rates are down but are still the highest on Great Britain

Last year, more than a thousand Scots died as a result of alcohol – that’s an average of 20 a week. It’s led NHS Health Scotland in its third annual report on Scotland’s alcohol strategy to call for further action to cut that total. It points out that sales of alcohol are 19% higher than in England and Wales, with more off-sales spirits, especially vodka, being purchased here.

Cheap spirits are a problem

Cheap spirits are a problem

Alcohol-related death rates in Scotland remain higher than those south of the Border and are double the levels 30 years ago. However, both deaths and hospital discharge rates have declined in recent years. But new analysis suggests that this has partly been caused by the economic downturn as alcohol became less affordable. And the improvement has not been across the board – women aged 25-44 years had not seen the same decline, particularly with alcoholic liver disease.

According to Clare Beeston, principal public health adviser at NHS Health Scotland, it was “pleasing that overall alcohol related deaths rates are falling. However, there were still over 1,000 alcohol-related deaths in 2012, with the equivalent of 20 people dying every week as a direct result of alcohol. This is still too many.

“Furthermore, in the 12 months to end of March 2012, nearly 26,000 people were hospitalised at least once due to alcohol. It is also worrying that the rates of hospitalisation for women aged 25-44 years have been increasing recently.”

Alex Neil Something must be done about the price of booze

Alex Neil
Something must be done about the price of booze

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Health Secretary Alex Neil insisted that policies, such as the abolition of multi-buy promotions, had helped. However, he added that until something was done about price “we won’t crack this problem”.

“There’s very clear evidence here that there remains a very strong link between the price of alcohol and the consumption of alcohol, particularly cheap drinks that do so much harm to people,” he said. “It’s about breaking that link, which is why we need minimum unit pricing.”

Meanwhile, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is to launch a £500,000 action fund to tackle alcohol-related harm in Scotland. £100,000 will be available each year over the next five year to charities and other organisations working to reduce alcohol-related harm.

The Scottish Parliament passed legislation with the intention of introducing a minimum price of 50p per unit. However, the plan is facing legal challenges from European wine and spirit producers and the Scotch Whisky Association.

A relatively clean bill of health of NHS Scotland

A report from Audit Scotland warns that the health service in Scotland faces significant challenges and needs to tighten its long-term financial planning if it’s to cope with expected budget cuts in the future. The report made these recommendations despite finding that NHS boards across Scotland had performed well, all of them meeting their financial targets last year. Audit Scotland made the recommendation in a report on NHS finances despite all health boards meeting their targets last year.

Caroline Gardner Auditor General

Caroline Gardner
Auditor General

The Auditor General for Scotland, Caroline Gardner, explained that the organisation’s financial performance “…was good in 2012-13, with all boards meeting their targets to break even and the service finishing the year with a small surplus. However, the health service needs to increase its focus on longer-term financial planning so that it is prepared for the challenges it faces.”

There are 14 territorial, and 9 specialist NHS boards in Scotland which, between them, spent £10.9 billion over the year, almost a third of the total Scottish budget. They ended the year with a surplus of £16.9 million and savings worth about £270 million. However, the auditors pointed out that 22% of the savings had been ‘one-off’ and similar levels would have to be found again next year. The worry is that the boards did not achieve their forecast levels of recurring savings. In Audit Scotland’s view, there will be a challenge in the future as it becomes harder to identity further opportunities to save money.

“While budgets are getting tighter, demand for healthcare is rising due to an ageing population,” it said, “more people with long-term conditions and the impact of factors such as increasing rates of obesity. This presents significant challenges for the NHS boards delivering services both now and in the longer term.”

NHS Health ScotlandSo far, the Scottish Government has resisted the market-orientated reforms which have been introduced south of the Border. Instead, it’s increased the overall health budget in real terms over the past decade. The boards have managed to meet their financial targets for the past five years. But Audit Scotland warned that real-terms cuts of 1.6% are in prospect over the next three years.

The Auditor General praised the financial performance of the NHS, stressing that it had made good progress in improving health outcomes, notably in relation to deaths from heart disease, cancer and stroke, and in respect of patient safety. “However,” she added, “the health service needs to increase its focus on longer-term financial planning so that it is prepared for the challenges it faces. The move to integrated health and social care services from 2015 will also be a significant change for the NHS and its partners. Strong longer-term planning and analysis are central to meeting these challenges.”

Alex Neil MSP Health Secretary

Alex Neil MSP
Health Secretary

Responding to the report, Scottish Labour’s health spokesman Neil Findlay said that it confirmed “everything we’ve been saying for the last few months about the increasing build-up of pressure across health boards because of SNP cuts. Audit Scotland have reinforced the need for an immediate review of the NHS so we can come up with a long-term plan that will support hard-pressed staff and ensure patients are properly cared for.”

However, the Health Secretary, Alex Neil, said that, despite increasing budgets, it was “right that the NHS is as efficient as possible with taxpayers’ money which is why we have asked boards to make savings. I want to be very clear that these savings are not a reduction in budget – all money saved will be reinvested in frontline services. This improves the quality of care patients receive.”

Stephen Duncan Balanced Fitness

Stephen Duncan
Balanced Fitness

by Stephen Duncan MSc
Managing Director
Balanced Fitness Ltd

What is good for the goose is not always good for the gander.

The vast majority of people that join a gym are looking to feel better, look better, lose weight. However there is lot of confusion within the general public as to how to best go about achieving these goals as shown by the following comments I frequently hear when first starting with a new client:

        “Swimming is good for you isn’t it?”
        “Running is good for losing weight!”
        “Running is bad for the knees”
        “Pilates is good for the core muscles!”
        “Yoga is good for flexibility!”
        “You don’t want to lift heavy weights because you get big muscles!”
        “I need to do more cardio!”
        “My back (or knees) hurt so I can’t do X!”
        “X, Y or Z is good for keeping you fit!”

All of the above can be right and wrong depending upon the person and right or wrong at different times for the same person. Your fitness program should be all about a balanced approach to your needs right now and then matched to your goals.

Balanced Fitness LogoI believe that if you want to feel better through exercise that you should focus upon how you move. To look better you should work on your breathing and posture, stretching tight muscles and toning up long muscles. If you are trying to lose fat, you need to focus on making improvements in your food and when you do work out make sure it is intense enough that you are out of your comfort zone.
Being active as in taking the stairs and walking the dog is important, however it’s the bare minimum.

A basic requirement of human health is that we move each and every day, we are not designed to be sedentary and sitting is a health disaster. When the body is no longer working as well as it should through neglect or injury then targeted exercise is essential. Someone trying to be healthy would take the stairs automatically and routinely walk places instead of using a car or bus. Exercise should be about specific pieces of work where you are pushing yourself, finding physical challenges that your body in time adapts to and in turn you become ever fitter.

The gym at the studio in Stockbridge

The gym at the studio in Stockbridge

If you do no exercise or very little, then you should become more active in the first instance – then start a specific program of exercise that focuses on challenging your weaknesses but also doesn’t neglect your strengths. Even an exercise beginner has strengths. It would be a mistake to assume because you have never done formal exercise or gone to gyms and exercise classes that you have no strengths.

An extremely important one – not always found in the gym – is the desire and commitment to push yourself and make your time working out a challenge. Many people spend hours doing the same exercise, week in, week out for years and sweat lots; but they’re no longer being challenged and then pat themselves on the back for at least turning up and doing their bit. It is not uncommon to hear gym members say “it’s better than nothing”!

I would argue if the goal is to look better and lose weight then they are no longer working towards their goals. As we are all different there is the argument that they feel better from doing the same workout over and over, even if they are only kidding themselves on in other aspects of fitness.

If most of your day involves sitting down and you have painful or stiff knees, your program should start off with a focus on stretching and becoming more mobile. I find that the reason people have a problem with running is that they do not prepare their bodies for the rigours involved and then over do the actual running. Repeating the same movements to excess without sufficient recovery will lead the body to adapt by becoming stiffer. It is common to find people who run with no other compensatory training too stiff in the ankles, knees and hips – so in these cases it is correct to say “running is bad for the knees”.

There are many different ways to stretch; yoga is not the answer for everyone. A better answer would be to find out exactly what muscles or group of muscles are tight and stretch them as opposed to stretching all your muscles regardless of need.

It's important to challenge your body

It’s important to challenge your body

Pilates is a great system of exercises that challenge your deeper muscles, the ones that you can’t always see as they surround your joints or spine and wrap around your internal organs. Again, there are many ways to skin a cat when it comes to exercise. The key thing is to learn how to work these core muscles, identify what good posture is and then challenge it in time in your chosen fitness regime which can be sport or your exercise program in the gym. Learning to use your core muscles will also help you move more effectively, sit better at work with less load on your spine and even reduce the likelihood of injury. Being less injured means you can keep on exercising and not miss dedicated exercise sessions.

If you work on your flexibility, strength and endurance, train your core muscles whilst constantly maintaining good posture, you will have a more balanced exercise program. You will be more likely to achieve your goals of feeling better as general movement just doesn’t hurt and is easier. You are also no longer limited in what exercise you can do. Running is less likely to hurt your knees. You can lift weights without hurting your back, play golf without your back or knees hurting. By practising the right exercises, it is also possible to spend all day in front of the computer screen without neck or shoulder pain. You look better as your posture improves and you stand your height, head up, shoulders back and stomach drawn in.

The right diet is also important

The right diet is also important

To lose weight, you want to use exercises that involve large muscles and you have to work them hard again and again with good form. You should aim to sweat and raise the heart rate. Now this can be done by lifting weights or by running, swimming or an exercise class. If you are working hard, your heart and lungs, your cardiovascular system will be challenged so many types of exercise fit the bill for a cardio workout.

The key to losing weight is making it challenging; so if you have only 20 or 30 minutes, pick exercises where you can push yourself whether that be weights or running. If you have longer to exercise – for example longer than an hour – then maybe swimming or running better fits the bill. If you have 3 hours then try hiking over a hill or going out for a cross country, mountain bike ride.

So as much as the time you have available to exercise should dictate what you do, you should also keep in mind that if you more frequently workout for 30 minutes, it would be a good idea for a balanced approach to also find the time to work out for longer than an hour. Sometimes people do not achieve their exercise goals because they over-rely on one type of exercise. We all know people who are always out running – and a ‘gym bunny’ is someone who just about never leaves the gym. It’s too easy, in some respects, to get stuck in a rut doing the same old, same old routines.

Exercising intensely with weights can help you lose fat and, if done with limited recovery, will also give you a cardio workout. If the weights are heavy and you can only perform a few reps then, as a man, in time you can gain muscle – but it is not a foregone conclusion. If you are a woman, the lack of the right balance of hormones makes gaining muscle a much bigger challenge.

So if you want to feel better, look better and lose weight and you do exercise then have a look at whether your exercise routine has become routine and as a result neglected the different aspects that improve your weaknesses.

A Wristband a Child would be happy to wear

What do you do if you find your child has a serious allergy – serious enough to be life-threatening?

Tracy Thomson and her Tagies

Tracy Thomson and her Tagies

Tracy Thomson was already working on a project to use QR codes in innovative ways while an undergraduate at the University of the West of Scotland. Then her son was diagnosed with egg allergy and ADHD. It’s serious enough for both school and home to have an EpiPen on hand, just in case. But she also wanted to make sure that he carried both emergency contact information and and details about both condition and medication wherever he went. Her solution was a modification of her existing work which has just reached the market.

Called a Tagie, it started off as a simple, colourful arm-band that a child would be happy to wear. But printed on it was a QR code. If something happened to the wearer, paramedics and hospital staff can simply scan the code with a smartphone or other similar device and immediately be able to see detailed information on that person’s condition. As with her son, it could be a food allergy. But with anyone else, it could be an intolerance to antibiotics or something equally important.

“What makes our product different to anything else on the market,” explains Tracy, “is the fact that the medics can access the information quickly. By using the QR Code, they’re tapping straight into the medical conditions of the individual. We see this as differentiating us from the wrist bands and bracelets that are out there already because the information will always be up to date.

“The most common one right now is a jewellery-type bracelet on which the information is engraved. What it contains is a phone number and three or four lines of engraved text. The phone number is that of a call centre. But if someone is having an anaphylactic episode, then you need the information there and then rather than having to wait for someone to answer the phone, no matter how quick the response time. And the moment there’s a change in the patient’s condition, it’s out of date. The product becomes obsolete and has to be replaced.”

The QR Code is scanned by a smartphone

The QR Code is scanned by a smartphone

Her initial market testing was done at home. Her son helped her to design the wristband. “It’s absolutely right for his age group” she says. “Let’s face it, children don’t often carry ID. This is a good way for them to carry that information in a fun way. It doesn’t say ‘I’m Different!’ it says ‘I’ve something fun to wear’.”

However, she’s taken the product further. The wrist bands appeal mainly to 2-12 year olds. But for teenagers and adults, she’s developed phone covers and wallet cards. As she points out, if someone’s unconscious, the first thing the emergency services will look at will be the phone and the wallet. In fact, everyone gets a membership card, one that child can easily fit it into a school bag or an adult can slip into the window of a wallet or purse.

“Our products come with 6-months’ membership,” she explains, “and we’ve adopted very disruptive pricing. We’re charging £7:50 for the wrist band and card and £12 for the phone cover and card. After the six months, there a monthly fee of just 99p so it’s not expensive. We wanted to price it so it was accessible to all markets.”

Her business recently won a Kick Start award at an event at Heriot-Watt University. She believes that, while the money that went with the award was important, it was the creditibility it gave her that really mattered. Her team has already pitched to a panel of angel investors and are currently waiting for their decision.

FindMe is a visually attractive game

Tigerface LogoFindMe is a game for iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone created by Tigerface, an award-winning educational games company based at the University of Edinburgh. With over 85,000 downloads, it’s proving to be a runaway success in helping young children with autism practice simple social skills. Now, the university’s commercialisation arm, ERI – Edinburgh Research and Innovation – has awarded further licenses to the games developer to create a suite of three games to expand the range of apps to improve the social skills of autistic pre-schoolers.

The game can be played by children as young as 18 months and doesn’t require any language or reading skills. The idea of the game is simple – find the person in the scene and tap on them. As the levels increase, it becomes harder to spot the person as more and more distracting thing (plants, animals, toys) appear on the screen.

Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson with the app

Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson
with the app

It’s the brainchild of Dr. Sue Fletcher Watson, a Chancellor’s Fellow within the Institute of Education, Community and Society at the University. She led a team who developed the research-based apps for young children with autism in a Nuffield Foundation Project. As she explains, “Research tells us that early intervention is key to helping children with autism develop good social and communication skills. We also know that a lot of autistic children have a preference for using computers. The iPad apps we’ve developed with Tigerface Games represent a unique coming-together of these two findings in a way which we hope will be of benefit to the community. I’m thrilled that there has been such demand for the FindMe app as it is so important to me to maintain the relevance of my research to the real world.”

Kate Ho MD of Tigerface Ganes

Kate Ho
MD of Tigerface Ganes

What the company now wants to do is expand beyond collaborative learning games. So it will use these licenses to realise its vision of making social skills easier to learn and practise with tablet based applications. It will mean that it can speed up the development of new games. Indeed, Kate Ho, managing director of Tigerface Games, believes that the licences “will enable us to fulfil a rapidly growing demand for games designed to help children with autism. We believe that games designed from the rigours of academic research will provide parents with games that they can trust.”

In the view of Ian Murphy, Head of Strategic Marketing at ERI, “this is a great example of credible knowledge exchange across three areas of the University of Edinburgh to bring about a cutting-edge approach to interactive learning for very young children with autism. We’re delighted to help Tigerface Games bring these new products to the market and assist them in enhancing their education apps portfolio.”

Childcare is a serious issue for families

Scottish Families are sending a powerful message to decision makers – childcare is holding them back. Those struggling on low incomes are particularly badly affected. The charity Save the Children spent the past 18 months travelling the country to hear over 150 parents’ concerns – the result: a new report called ‘Give us a Hand with Childcare’.

The report found that families held strong views. They argued that their children are missing out on opportunities to learn and parents were finding it harder and harder to balance work with raising a family due to lack of suitable, available and affordable childcare. They key word here is ‘affordable’. Parents are finding that childcare so expensive that it’s becoming a luxury that only families earning a very good income can comfortably afford. Families on low incomes simply don’t earn enough to cover their childcare bill as well as living costs – making work an unrealistic option.

Families have to rely on family and friends for childcare

Families have to rely on family and friends for childcare

Some of the most surprising revelations from parents include the sheer reliance on family and friends, some of whom live a great distance away, as well as the varying availability of childcare throughout Scotland. The charity has heard stories of parents who have given up college courses due to high costs of childcare, or one parent on minimum wage paying £6,500 per year to keep her child in nursery. West Dunbartonshire mums, Caroline Wilson and Lori Summers were both invited to give evidence on childcare in the Scottish Parliament last week (10th Sept).

Caroline said: “One of my main difficulties is finding after school childcare that will fit for my family. It’s so expensive and there’s very little availability. It traps parents into not being able to work or take up other opportunities. It would be a good thing to prioritise deprived areas as it would give people the choice to study or work. It would help children to get the best start in life”.

Lori, who studies during the day and whose partner works evening shifts to accommodate looking after the children, added that “we rarely get to spend time as a family; my partner has to work when I’m not at college to balance the childcare. As my youngest is two and there’s nothing to help families with childcare at that age and I just couldn’t afford to put him in nursery. I want to be self-employed in future, I don’t want to be rich and rolling in money, I just want to be comfortable and able to do the best I can for my children”.

Claire Telfer  Save the Children

Claire Telfer
Save the Children

Save the Children has been speaking out on this issue for a number of years now, citing affordable childcare as a ‘vital service’ and ‘crucial to the Scottish economy’. According to Claire Telfer, the charity’s Head of Policy and Campaigns in Scotland, “Parents are asking for a helping hand with childcare. Parents tell us that they are still struggling to access affordable, accessible and flexible childcare and this is holding them and their families back. One of the most striking findings was the level of consensus that emerged on what parents want and what needs to urgently change – no matter where parents live and what age their child is. Parents have told us how it us, it’s time for decision makers to listen and act and that’s why Save the Children, alongside Scottish parents are campaigning for reform.

“This report provides an opportunity to hear directly from parents across Scotland about their experiences and needs when it comes to childcare. The Bill is a golden opportunity to transform a vital service that supports children’s and parents’ wellbeing and is at the heart of Scotland’s social and economic infrastructure. We hope that the Scottish Government and other key stakeholders will be ready to listen, step up and take strides to support families in their call to give them a hand with childcare.”

The charity’s campaign to give all families a right to decent childcare launches ahead of a Parliamentary Committee meeting today which will hear evidence on proposals to extending access to early learning and childcare included in the Children & Young People Bill. Save the Children wants the Scottish Government to use the Bill to give all families a right to high quality, affordable and flexible childcare.

Green space more essential to women

Women living in deprived areas with little green space are more likely to be stressed than men living in the same circumstances. Research published in an international journal on public health shows that there are significant gender differences in stress patterns by levels of green space. Women in lower green space areas show higher overall levels of stress, according to the research, led by OPENspace research centre at the Universities of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt. The same does not appear to be true of men living in the same areas; an anomaly which the study suggests requires further investigation.

Those in deprived areas suffer the most

Those in deprived areas suffer the most

Researchers looked specifically at the concentration of cortisol, the stress hormone, in men and women living in deprived urban areas in Scotland. They then looked at people’s perception of their stress levels and measured the relationship between gender and percentage of green space on mean cortisol concentrations. They found there was a positive effect of higher green space on women, but not in men.

The effects of contact with green space and a lowering of stress levels is thought to be associated with factors including increased physical activity which improves mood; increased social contact and better mental wellbeing. Contact with nature has also been shown to have positive effects on blood pressure and heart rate. However, most studies which have measured cortisol levels in relation to contact with nature have focused only on the levels immediately before and after contact with nature. This new study measured patterns in people’s daily lives

It concludes:

    in both men and women, perceived stress was higher in low green space areas, but women’s perceived stress was significantly higher in low green space areas than men’s
    perceived stress was higher for people with no garden, especially men

    both men and women living in deprived areas with higher levels of green space report less perceived stress and appear to be more resilient to the negative effects of urban deprivation

Dr Jenny Roe Heriot Watt University

Dr Jenny Roe
Heriot Watt University

Speaking on behalf of the research team, lead author Dr Jenny Roe from Heriot Watt University pointed out that the results were “important in understanding how neighbourhood green space might contribute to public health improvement. Stress is known to impact on cardiovascular health, alongside other risk factors such as genetics, age, diet and physical activity, but little is known about the contributions of environmental factors. We already know that higher levels of green space are associated with reduced cardio-vascular mortality. Our new study indicates that neighbourhood green space is associated with perceptions of stress as well as the levels of stress hormones in the body and this may be a pathway by which the environment can impact health. While we need more research to understand these mechanisms, our study represents a valuable step in establishing a biological pathway linking green space with stress levels in deprived urban environments.”

The research was carried out in collaboration with the Universities of Glasgow and Westminster, Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland and the James Hutton Institute.