Treading in the Footsteps of Others: A Chaplain’s Compassion

Others will follow your footsteps easier than they will your advice.

Others will follow your footsteps easier than they will your advice.

I used to play a game on the beach with my daughter when she was younger.
I would walk along the shoreline, barefooted in the wet sand, and she would follow me, trying her best to walk in my footprints and not leave a mark of her own.

It’s easy to think that we are IT isn’t it? Well it is for me at least!
The fact that we are here NOW is obvious. But many have trodden these paths before us, doing the job that we do, making a difference.
We really do stand on the shoulders of giants.

This was brought home to me by a recent email from a retired Chaplain who was a perdecessor of mine: Canon Lisle Ryder.

Lisle had seen mention of my blog somewhere and wrote to express his appreciation. He worked at Castle Street and Ronkswood before the new site and was instrumental in the spiritual care provision (including our lovely Prayer Room) at the present site of Worcestershire Royal Hospital until 2003.

And in amongst all that he went about his business of caregiving and compassionate actions.

Lisle sent me a beautiful poem with a short explanation, which for me sums up what the business of Chaplaincy and care in the NHS are about. It moved me; and I hope it does the same for you.He says:

“This is about Jim (I’ve used his real name). I had been with when his wife had a stroke and he was a wonderful support through her recovery. Later he was admitted himself as a patient and in the meantime his wife Isabel had died. He so much appreciated seeing someone who remembered her.


You look so pleased to see me
from far along the ward – Jim:
I recognised you after several years and,
returning after analgesia relieved the pain,
shared Communion. Christ’s love
which reminded you of the struggle
of Isabel. Memories re-enacting
that stroke which took so much.
I recalled her first words, that revealed her
Scottish – the long commitment you made
to her recovery. You took her home – risen.
Her life I remember vivid, but her death
is absence.
I left you sorrowful, but
somehow thankful for what we’d known, and shared
and treasured of Isabel – her courage, our faith
made new there at the bedside. Bread
and wine hallowed again and again – risen.

WARNING: The Department of Health Doesn’t Endorse this BLOG



I love this blog!
Well I would say that wouldn’t I.
I believe it is truly DEMOCRATIC and gives people a voice in the NHS and their great experiences of being cared for.

And I continue to write letters and emails and Tweets which try to get the ‘worthies’ to publicise the Chaplain’s Blog.

And so my local politicians like Robin Walker MP and Harriet Baldwin MP have come in and given there support to what you are doing, in your stories, anecdotes, and good experiences.

“I know,” I thought. “I am sure that the Department of Health would want to plug my Blog. I know it’s nothing special but they are in charge of the whole set up.”

And so I wrote to them detailing what the blog was about.

How it was intended to spread good news.
How my survey showed that it increased staff morale and community confidence in the hospials.
How it had been taken up by politicians and the media alike.
and how a staggering 200,000 people like you had viewed it.

I was sure that they could do something to endorse it. After all, I thought, they want to increase staff morale and patients confidence on our NHS.

Now, sometimes, what’s blindingly obvious to one person is not to another- so it seems that me and the DoH were singing from different Hymnsheets.

And in response to my email I got this letter…

“Dear Dr Southall,

Thank you for your correspondence of 17 February to Dan Poulter about your Chaplain’s Blog. I have been asked to reply. The Department of Health is always pleased to read good news stories about the NHS.
Just as complaints help the NHS to deal with things that go wrong, stories such as those on your website let people know where good practice can be found. It helps them to tell others in the health service how to improve the way that they serve the public and to make sure that patients get the service that they expect and deserve.
Giving praise where praise is due gives great encouragement to staff who strive every day to meet the needs of the people in their care. As you know, their jobs can often be very demanding and words of thanks are an important boost to their morale.
However, as you will be aware, the provision of healthcare services is a matter for the NHS locally and the Department of Health does not play a role in the complaints or praise process, which should be free of political interference to ensure there is no question of bias. It would therefore not be appropriate for the Department of Health to endorse your website. I hope this reply is helpful.

Yours sincerely, Malcolm Jones. Ministerial Correspondence and Public Enquiries”


Not the stories of your great medical treatment
Not the accounts of the compassion and kindness you have told us about
Not the anecdotes which tell of those going over and above the call of duty
Not the tales of the care your recieved in your tragedy



I Just Can’t Imagine It…On the Loss of a Baby

No footprint is to small to leave its impact on the world

No footprint is to small to leave its impact on the world


I have three teenage children and life is often chaotic, but I wouldn’t be without them – even on the worst of days. And whilst, like many of us, we have had our fair share of tragedy, we are all still here.

But really I can’t begin to imagine what it is like for the mother, carrying her baby for so long, to lose this little one. And what it must be like for dad, or grandparents, or family and friends.

To be confronted with the loss of a fragile little life seems cruel; no, it is cruel. And as much as I try, I can’t put myself in that place.

But I can imagine the treatment I would want from the health professionals around me in a situation like this. I want medical competence, of course. But I want understanding and compassion and sensitivity and care.

This is a big ask anywhere. Who is up to such a task?

Well, I received a most moving letter from someone whose daughter had just lost a baby and was care for on Lavender Unit at Worcestershire Royal Hospital. Did they receive such treatment? READ ON:

“I am writing to you as I note you wish to hear of the wonderful work done at the hospital.

My daughter was cared for over six days whilst she sadly suffered a late miscarriage on Lavender Ward recently.

Every single member of staff we encountered was outstanding in their dedication to their very difficult work. Not only do such circumstances demand the highest level of medical care, but also a clear understand of very complex emotions.

Firstly, the cleaners. They were just so lovely as they unobtrusively appeared and kept [N’s] room beautiful- their level of attention to detail and kindness was wonderful.
Then the Health Care Assistants- so discreet and careful as they made sure my daughter was comfortable and was eating enough to keep her energy up.

And the doctors and consultants, of whom there were many, and yet the consistency of approach and continuity of care was outstanding. Their skills and compassion created an atmosphere of confidence and most certainly diminished my daughter’s most extreme fears.

And, of course, the nurses. I lost count of how often I saw them work beyond their designated shift times to ensure [N’s] wellbeing. Their clear knowledge and understanding of her circumstances, and their swift action at the most difficult times exemplified the very best of human endeavour.

Not only that, but everyone working on the ward showed such care and concern for me and for my daughter’s partner.

Since her discharge, I would also like to pay tribute to the Bereavement Services from the Hospital who visited [N] and her partner at home. Their visit coincided with a very hard period for her – one of those days when it is easy to be overwhelmed by sadness and loss. The visit visibly lifted both of them, allowing them to express their deepest thoughts and to receive exactly the right comfort to sustain them as they adjust to their lives.

I have written to the ward, but saw your request on the website. It’s so important, especially in our negative media-led times not to overlook the everyday work of the highest levels of professionalism which goes on in our Hospitals.”

[Name and Address Supplied]

SILENCE! S’il Vous Plait



SILENCE IS S RARE COMMODITY – well in my life at least!
Here is Claudia’s story which inspired her poem.

Hello David,

My name is Claudia Waterhouse , I am French, I work in Endoscopy Department in Worcestershire Royal Hospital. Although I have seen you and I am a regular follower of your blog which I love ( I may add ), I have never really met you face to face until today and it was a real pleasure to meet you and the other two chaplains you were with and I hope I did not disturb you too much .
I am very continental and I love the art of talking, singing and laughing and after singing a Christmas song yet again last week one of my colleague who is lovely suggested jokingly that I should be gagged as I could never be quiet .
After this comment , an idea started to form , what if I did a sponsored silence for eight hours and donate all the proceeds to the Heart Foundation Charity?
Most of my colleagues thought I could never do it as I am a lively character but today Tuesday 4 th of February 2014 I succeeded to do eight hours of silence whilst at work ( in a non clinical area just for the day ) and it was challenging for me to do so .
The reason I am writing to you is to tell you how overwhelmed I am by people’s kindness and response to my sponsored silence and to tell you how amazing these people are. People from all areas such as my unit,Theatre, service point, path lab , ward, reception,chaplains, porter, family etc… donated and thanks to their kindness I have raised 104 pounds for The British Heart Foundation.
Whilst I was doing this sponsored silence , I noticed Also some people did not know how to react to my silence , some shouted louder thinking I was deaf which made me smile , others found it hard to communicate with me which made me realise how people with real disability must feel .In order to tell you how I felt I wrote a poem , and as promised to you today I am sending it to you.the title is ” look at me “

Having restrained myself from speaking
In aid of raising money today for charity
I can see how some people are responding
To my “would be ” disability.

Some shout, others do not want to speak
I am feeling like a total stranger
Is it a lack of knowledge or fear that make them weak
For this I have no reason nor answer.

I am still the person that you know
My intelligence remains the same
Like you I have feelings of joy and sorrow
Your non communication is driving me insane.

Do not judge me on what you see
Take time to stop and notice the person in front of you
If only for a day in my shoes you could be
You would realise I want the same respect as you do.

We are all humans and we are just one race
Trying to live this life of beauty
I want to be loved , I want to feel safe
Regardless of my creed, colour or disability .

A big thank you to you and your colleagues David for donating and taking the time to listen to me .

With many thanks again and kind regards

Claudia Waterhouse

If I’m ever ill, it’s the Alex for Me!

I'd Choose the Alex!

I’d Choose the Alex!

Recommendation is the highest praise.

And I was delighted to get this comment from Mr. Haywood prioritising the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch over another place.

No need for exhaustive comments, just read what he has to say!

“Dear Ms D Narburgh (Matron)

Please could you convey to all the staff on ward 6 (Cardiac), my sincere Thanks for the treatment I received during my stay. Sister Kat and her staff at all times were caring and attended to all my needs and nothing was too much trouble.

All staff were courteous and respectful of my privacy, my stay at your hospital, although I was seriously ill the care I received was second to none. I work at the Queen Elizabeth hospital, and if ever I’m ill in the future my choice of hospital to be cared for would be the Alex.

Once again

Thank You keep up the good work.

Mr Mark Haywood”

Worcestershire Acute Staff Named and Shamed: Read it here first!


SORRY! Did I say “SHAMED”… I meant “PRAISED”.

I always get those words mixed up. Silly me!

But now that you’re here, maybe it’s time to reflect on what made you click on the link.

I wonder…

Was it because you are a regular follower of the BLOG and you wondered what was going on. After all this is a good news blog and it’s not like me to do this is it?

Or maybe it was the despair at seeing another bad news story about the NHS? “What is it now?” you asked yourself.

Or maybe it was that CULTURAL INFECTION, that we have without knowing it, that bad news is the way in which we see the world. That we shrug and read with titillated interest. “Another one! Glad I wasn’t caught out this time!”

So while you take a moment to reflect, read this good news story of a patient’s family who wanted to say thank you. The two named people are a Nurse and a Ward Clerk. And when I asked Bethan the nurse what she thought of the message she just said “It makes it all worthwhile.”

Dear All,
Just a brief note to say thank you for all the care and attention you gave to my father [Name Omitted] during his stay on Laurel 2.
Although the final outcome was not as we’d hoped, he was appreciative of all the treatment he received, as he has had a very real fear of being elderly and ill in Hospital.
A special thank you to BETHAN and NATALIE, who not only were lovely to Dad, but also to all our family. WE WILL NEVER FORGET.
With kind regards from us all,
[Name and address supplied]

Good News is the cultural antidote that we need to fight our national infection.
It doesn’t me we don’t challenge the poor stuff, discipline to downright bad and commit ourselves to improvement.

It does mean that we spare a chance to reflect on the great achievements that happen day in/day out in the NHS.


Organising My Pants Drawer Again: Seems I’m not the Only One

Still not my pants...still not my drawer...but you get the point

Still not my pants…still not my drawer…but you get the point

I can’t tell you how pleased (in a way) I am to have received so many emails and tweets in response to my last post I had tweets and emails telling me what strategies others used, and how they recognised when their resilience and well-being was compromised. And I had private emails from Healthcare Professionals telling me how they were struggling with depression at the moment.





So in the end I realised that I was not alone. There are hundreds of us out there; 1000′s even, who have succumbed to depression due to pressures at work. In fact, I remember when I returned to work after my sick leave, I encountered so many staff who, when I told them my story, said “Been there, done that.”

Now I don’t want to get all religious on you, but there is a sentence in one of the world’s sacred texts in which the Teacher says: “You will say Physician, heal thyself.” And if we can’t care for ourselves, then presumably we can’t care for others.

Is all this stress and depression avoidable? How should I know, I’m just a humble chaplain!
Do these episodes become one of those to which we look back and shudder. To right they do.
But there was comfort for me at least in knowing that I wasn’t alone.

So if you think it’s just you, then let me assure you again that it’s not.
So here is one of the emails I received from a colleague fro Worcestershire Acute Trust. I use it with permission but my friend wants to remain anonymous.
Note how closely it mirrors my story.
Maybe it mirrors yours?
I am always happy to be contacted either through the CONTACT ME page on this blog or by telephoning the Hospital on 01905 760124.
I don’t have answers, but sometimes it helps to walk with someone who has travelled a similar terrain.

“Dear Reverend Southall,

Please can I just say a huge thankyou to you for writing this recent article.

In this country, in 2014 there still persists a stigma about “mental health issues”. It must have taken a huge amount of courage for you to write the article in the 1st place! The words “mental” & “nutter” are bandied about too casually. Rarely do people stop to think that they may have unintentionally offended someone around them (me in this case!)

I was in exactly your position in 2011.My wife & I had decided that we wanted to surprise our two children with a (hedonistic) holiday to Disneyland Florida. We wanted to indulge our children, who don’t normally have foreign holidays & create great memories for their childhoods-which are over too quickly these days.

You can imagine how much such a holiday would cost-a figure normally unattainable on our modest salaries! We decided that it should be a surprise-only 7 people knew about the holiday-the adults going & our parents (all sworn to secrecy). We fooled the children into thinking they were going to Menorca..we got travel brochures for the region & our parents even gave us their old Euros for the kids to spend! Hook..line & sinker!!

I have the luxury/burden of a second job. I used the overtime opportunities available to me to chip away over 14 months to pay for this holiday-my goal at that time. At that point I was unable to say no when work was available. The end result was-you’ve guessed it-like you I worked myself into the ground & “got through” each day. I would fall into bed about 2340 & be asleep as my head hit the pillow.

My wife noticed something was afoot in early 2011.Like you, I got a strong hint from her to “go to the GP!”. My Male pride took over; “Man up-there’s nothing wrong with you”. Inside my mind was the odd but slightly humorous image of my father,”Men don’t need to go to the doctors!!” This one did-but just didn’t know it yet! I put off visiting the doc with various excuses-“no appointments” or “too much work”.

Eventually I crashed-hugely in October 2011. I apologise for saying this, but my depression was making me prone to suicidal thoughts. They normally occurred when I was passing a suitable site-a brick wall in the car, the top floor of a multi storey car park. However I am a secret coward & had no plans to act on these thoughts. I recognised it for what it was-an irrational thought, but put off telling my wife the whole, gory truth-I didn’t want to trouble her as she had enough on her plate with work, children etc. The one day I came home from a (to me) particularly bad day at work. I knew I had a problem when my “virtual pants drawer” overflowed. A patient said something quite innocent to me but in my state then I took it personally & felt terrible. I too went to my GP, filled in the “Big D” test & as you were, I was diagnosed with depression & anxiety. This resulted in me being signed off for 11 weeks-the longest period of sickness in my life.

My GP put me on Chemicals to start my recovery. I was told that if I didn’t feel fit to work, I was not to bother coming to see the Doctor, but just to “phone up” & a new prescription would be issued. In my state then, such an offer would have been too tempting to abuse. In addition I was referred by my fantastic manager for counselling therapy via [name omitted]-our in house counsellor at the [Place omitted] She was fantastic. I don’t know how she did it, but each time I came out of a session with her, I felt great, elated. I didn’t realise what the box of tissues on the side were for….I do now!! My most surreal moment came when discussing my sex life with a lady old enough to be my mother! I burst into tears regularly during my sessions-I felt I’d let down the male species as I was so conditioned “not to cry”!

I am ashamed to say I put my wife & children through a living hell. I was an angry, short/bad tempered bear with a sore head. I would regularly fly off the handle at the poor soul who happened to have annoyed me. They were all scared to be around me & lead to some big blazeups between myself & my teenage son. We had a new kitchen fitted while I was signed off-in my mind I was convinced my wife was having an affair with the carpenter..she always became more flirty, animated different person when he was around. It was a kick in the teeth to me & my imagination got away with me. I even asked her mum & best friend if there was anything going on that I should know about. It took me most of 2012 to recover. I didn’t start to feel “better” until beginning 2013.

Fast forward to August 2012. We go on holiday during the “Olympic 2 weeks” I had a “wardrobe malfunction” while going through American customs..! I was asked to take anything metallic off & pass it through the metal detector machine. However, I forgot my belt with a metallic belt can guess whats coming! I had just brought some new shorts for holiday, which were being held up by said belt. As it set the alarm off, I was told to remove it and go through the gate again. As my shorts had loosened up, once my belt was removed-they headed south! Imagine my embarrassment at flashing my wares to 00’s of people in the customs hall…..much hilarity ensued. You know how those full body scanners show everything? I said to the guards-lets get the laughter over with now.

This was the real start of my recovery. I now know my limits, have made lifestyle adjustments, cut down on work & (hopefully) have restored a work/life balance post counselling. I am now in control of my destiny again & am a better Father, Son & Husband.

The comfort I have taken from other friends & colleagues during my recovery is how common this illness is. I was shocked at how many people have had it, lived it & got over it. These were people I admire & look up to (including yourself) They candidly were brave enough to admit to me they were also sufferers. I know who my true friends are & now am fully prepared to jump in feet first for any friend or colleague who needs help.

Your story has inspired me to write to you-I’m sorry it’s a bit wordy but quite a lot to cram in the story. Hopefully there are a few bits in there that you may find amusing. If my story helps one person to get through the nightmare that is depression, please feel free to use it in any media, but I’d like to remain anonymous.”

Many thanks