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Nurse comedian blows the whistle on poor dementia care

Nurse uses comedy to deliver a serious message about dementia care.

Rob Gee is a mental health nurse who has witnessed good and bad practice during a 12-year career that has included working in acute psychiatric settings in both the UK and Australia.

In recent years, Mr Gee combines his now part-time role in mental health nursing with working as a comedian and performance poet, where he uses entertainment to talk about mental health.

Mental health nurse Rob Gee
Mental health nurse and comedian Rob Gee

Much of Mr Gee’s clinical role now involves working with service users on creative projects.

For example, he is lead artist for BrightSparks: Comedy Asylum, which provides improvisations workshops for people with severe mental health issues. The group puts on comedy shows, and Mr Gee also leads improvisation and creative writing workshops in a range of clinical settings.

His experiences as a nurse have been a catalyst for much of his writing. The protagonist of each show differs and this enables him to explore a range of perspectives with his audiences.

The perspective of a jaded nurse is the focus for the first show in the trilogy, titled Fruitcake. The second show – the award-winning Forget Me Not: The Alzheimer’s Whodunnit – is set in a dementia ward. It is based around a murder mystery plot told from the perspective of a carer who also has dementia. The third show in the trilogy, Icarus, provides insight from the perspective of a patient.

Whistleblowing

More recently, Mr Gee has been approached by Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust to deliver a series of pilot workshops to staff around dementia care, based on his show, Forget Me Not.

Senior staff at the trust had heard about the show and invited Mr Gee to perform it to a select audience at boardroom level. Following the performance, the trust was keen to work with him to use the show as a training aid to explore key issues, including institutional bullying and whistleblowing.

The training is made up of five pilot workshops funded by the Arts Council and will commence in September 2016. The workshops will be delivered as half-day sessions to groups of 50 people who each have experience of caring for or overseeing the care of patients with dementia, including frontline and managerial staff, and carers.

‘I am excited to see how the pilot workshops go with the trust,’ says Mr Gee.

‘I really hope the staff will find the content beneficial. The workshops will be based around the show’s themes of compassion and whistle blowing.

'I will be performing Forget Me Not to each group and they will be asked a variety of questions to ascertain what they would do in a situation where they faced institutional bullying or witnessed the ill treatment of a patient. The show is essentially about woeful standards of care and it aims to add to that conversation.

'Both the trust and the Arts Council are keen to see if the sessions will have an impact on the delivery of care.’

The show, which is set in the mid-90s, is based on Mr Gee’s experiences of working as a student nurse in a challenging behaviour ward, caring for doubly-incontinent, late-stage dementia patients.

Talking about his own experience of whistleblowing, Mr Gee says: ‘It was not the nicest of situations by any stretch of the imagination. I ended up leaving under a cloud after reporting some of the behaviour I saw.

'I was there for three months as an enthusiastic 20-year-old student nurse and what terrified me the most was how I found myself feeling a little jaded and less compassionate in my delivery after just a couple of months. There were staff who had worked on that ward for more than 20 years and you think “what chance do they have?”

'What I struggled with was that we were unable to head off aggression from patients. The instances of violence towards you were completely unpredictable. I feel that in itself contributed to some of the burnout that I witnessed back then.’

System changes for the better

Mr Gee does feel NHS standards have improved and the system has changed for the better since he worked in it full-time. However, he feels one area that is not being addressed is care in the private sector, where he understands many of the horror stories about poor care originate from.

He aims to challenge the negative culture of whistleblowing through his work.

‘If we do not agree with this ill treatment of vulnerable patients, why are we allowing it to happen?’ he asks.

‘One of the characters in Forget Me Not has the opportunity to report something but decides not to. If we do not report these things or we do not feel safe to do so, why?

'What would stop you from blowing the whistle on poor care? Through the show and my sessions with the trust, I hope to put that question at the forefront of people’s minds.’

Find out more

For more information on Rob Gee’s work, visit www.robgee.co.uk

 

Julie Penfold is a freelance writer

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