This just got real…

NHS Education for Scotland ConferenceThe reason I love PR is that you get the chance to make a difference to peoples’ lives – challenge perceptions, change peoples’ behaviours. Earlier this year I took part in a communications process I will never forget and neither will around 200 others here in Scotland and across the UK.

In my career so far, I have argued about the relative merits of Leeds United footballers with Alistair Campbell in the basement of 10 Downing St., bumped into Bill and Chelsea Clinton (in the same basement),  ran numerous Royal visits across the country, been up to my neck in national media coverage on so many different subjects I’ve forgotten a lot of it, shoved Hollywood A-listers in front of the cameras. And in the process I helped in some small ways to stop drink driving at Christmas, speeding on the streets and making sure our vulnerable old folk get their flu jab. I have even helped persuade junior school kids they need to get their 5 a day.

But this conference...wow.

The scene is a hotel in Edinburgh. There are around 150 nursing students about to go into the world to care for people of Scotland. From the outside it’s like a lot of other conferences. Organised by the student themselves with NHS Education for Scotland – this had a very different feel. My role was distinctly 'background' - two BBC documentary crews were there and I helped to make sure the conference ran smoothly despite their presence and ensure they got the footage they needed.

A key note speaker is Hayley Goleniowska - she speaks for about 25 minutes. I would say you couldn’t hear a pin drop – some moments are like that. Some weren’t. The audience laughs with Hayley. Cries with her.

Hayley is explaining what life was like before and after having Natty, her daughter who has down’s syndrome. She is changing perceptions of how healthcare staff interact with mums, with children who have down’s.

Some mums, if they are told they are high risk of having a down’s baby are simply handed a termination advice leaflet. After birth some are left alone in a delivery suite with a pile of literature as their world falls apart. Staff creep around them as if a bereavement has occurred.

The proportion of healthcare staff who are trained as specialists in learning disabilities is tiny compared to the rest of the NHS workforce – but they all need to know what it’s like for those parents, those carers, those children. And what they can do to help.

I always said 'peer to peer' was the most powerful form of communication – mum to mum, teenage boy to teenage boy but here it was one woman's story revealing an experience of thousands.

Not a single person left that room unchanged. Those trainee nurses, midwives, specialists will carry the messages they heard into their own practice for the decades to come.

Without doubt the most powerful communication event I have attended.

You can see Hayley and Natty on BBC South West Inside Out at 10mins 12seconds http://bbc.in/1T4y3nx

For more information on Downside Up – changing perceptions about Down's Syndrome log onto their website here http://www.downssideup.com/