Universities might be selecting the wrong people to become nurses

Robin Ion

Universities might be selecting the wrong types of people to become nurses, a radical new article in the journal Nurse Education Today suggests.

This idea is just one of many the article highlights as it draws attention to the compassion deficit debate and urges those involved in nurse education – as well as both professional and student nurses – to think about the role they can play in preventing care failures such as those detailed at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust from ever happening again.

Written by academics from five leading nurse education institutions – the Universities of Abertay, Edinburgh, Stirling, and Edinburgh Napier, as well as Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust – this is the first time so many nurse educators have come together in an attempt to bring coherence to the ongoing debate and to move it forward.

Dr Rosie Stenhouse – lead author of the article – explains:

“There is no question that, in most cases, the care provided by nurses is very good. Compassion is at the heart of what we do. But we can’t ignore the fact that poor care does exist. As nurse educators, we are duty bound to acknowledge this and to work out how we can equip nurses with the skills and knowledge to prevent anything similar to the Mid Staffs scandal from ever happening again.

“People often blame the system, but in this article we go deeper than that and discuss some fairly radical views, including the idea that there might be a fundamental lack of compassion in some of the individuals who become nurses. Nursing is seen in many ways as being untouchable – that everyone who does it is an angel – but the evidence suggests that this isn’t always the case.

“We also discuss the possibility that it might not be the health care system that is the problem, but the way we are teaching nurses. If we are unable to produce nurses who are capable of providing compassionate care, then perhaps we need to rethink how we are delivering our nurse education.”

She continues:

“These issues are extremely complex and it is important to recognise that there is not going to be one single solution. The ones we highlight in this article are many and varied and must be seen in terms of the complex interplay that exists between individual and organisational factors.

“With this in mind, our aim in highlighting all these points is to get practitioners and students to reflect upon the impact that their actions as individuals can have on improving patients’ overall experience of care. These actions, no matter how small, will begin to improve the system right now, while wider organisational changes are discussed, decided upon and implemented over the coming years.”

In addition to the role of institutions, the article discusses a number of other thought-provoking ideas, including a paper suggesting that the ‘compassion deficit’ of the prominent Nazi Adolf Eichmann may explain how large numbers of people can become complicit in morally reprehensible activities.

Written by Robin Ion from Abertay University, who is co-author of the wider Nurse Education Today article, the paper draws upon the work of the political theorist Hannah Arendt, who uses Eichmann’s trial as a paradigmatic case for how large numbers of people can become complicit in morally reprehensible activities.

In her landmark book – ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil’ – Arendt suggests that what leads people to collectively carry out such heinous acts is not just an inherent malevolence or wickedness but, quite simply, the ‘inability to think’.

It is this ‘inability to think’ – think through, critically reflect upon and question what they were doing – which Ion believes is pertinent to the events that took place at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Robin explains:

“Over recent years, reports such as that of Robert Francis QC have dented the reputation of nursing, by questioning the traditional view of the nurse as a compassionate and caring professional.

“There has been incredulity at – and, quite rightly, widespread condemnation of – the ‘morally reprehensible’ activities of healthcare professionals, but in order to properly understand how such systemic neglect could have occurred, we need to look deeper than to simply take the traditional view and say it was down to the actions of a few bad individuals.

“When Arendt used Eichmann’s trial as a paradigmatic case for how large numbers of people can become complicit in morally reprehensible activities, she said that he possessed ‘the inability to think’.

“By this she didn’t mean that he was stupid. And she certainly wasn’t seeking to trivialise the gravity of his acts. Rather, she was proposing that the downfall of those who possess this ‘inability to think’ comes from their failure to think through, reflect upon and question what they are doing.”

However, he points out that although Eichmann was highly intelligent, it was by focusing solely on finding the most efficient way to carry out his orders – without thinking through, or thinking about, the effects of what he was doing on his fellow human beings – that he became one of the chief orchestrators of the Holocaust.

He believes something similar occurred at Mid Staff:

“At Mid Staffs, there was a single-minded focus on reaching targets and meeting goals cost-efficiently, which meant that those in their care were left out of the equation and only considered as an after-thought, or – more often than not – forgotten about completely.

“Although Arendt’s theory remains a challenging and controversial one, it is only by attempting to properly understand how something so morally reprehensible could have happened that health care education providers – who are responsible for training the nurses of the future – will be able to prevent such widespread and systemic ‘moral catastrophes’ from happening again.

“Of course, nursing staff need to be efficient in order to ensure the effective running of our hospitals, but this cannot be at the expense of caring for their patients.

“As education providers, we need to be aware of what can happen when this type of ‘habituated thoughtlessness’ – as Arendt put it – prevails, and balance the need to help students develop the problem solving skills they need to carry out procedures effectively, with the equally important ability to ‘stop and think’, ask questions of, and challenge the nature of these systems themselves.”

The article – Exploring the compassion deficit debate – is published in Nurse Education Today and can be viewed online.


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E: k.cameron@abertay.ac.uk

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First UK exhibition for ‘The Mother Load’ project

The Mother Load copper plates_main

A thought-provoking new exhibition exploring the links between motherhood, identity, hope and new beginnings will open at Abertay University on Friday 26 February.

At times humorous, at times heart-breaking, ‘The Mother Load: Dundee’ tells the stories and shares the experiences of women from around the world who are finding new ways to achieve that age-old challenge of balancing work and home life.

Central to this is the idea of community and the importance of building personal networks of support that can empathise, as well as be creatively inspiring.

This is perfectly portrayed in a unique project that has been created in collaboration with Dundee’s Young Mothers Unit by the US-based artists Lesli Robertson and Natalie Macellaio, and the artist and curator Clare Brennan from Abertay University.

The installation is a collection of hand-stitched prints made from found objects, each with a personal story behind it and each interwoven with the hopes and dreams these young mothers have for their children and their futures.

TML_young mums_main

Loosely based on the quilting bees of past generations – where women would share stories, techniques, ideas and their lives – the young women took part in workshops over a three week period that were designed to help them connect with each other, share their experiences and create something beautiful that tells their stories – a creation that explores their identity, not only as mums, but as young women at the start of their adult life.

The heart-wrenchingly poignant photographic installation ‘Sleep While The Baby Sleeps’ also explores the idea of sharing experiences, this time through two mothers who are bringing up children in very different circumstances.

Simone O’Callaghan began the project when her first child was born six years ago and invited Jenny McMillan, whose three-year-old son Blake has a rare genetic condition that leaves him vulnerable to disease and causes him profound disability, to participate.

Each mother has taken a photo of her own child every night since they were born, and the accompanying narratives which detail what each mum was doing while their baby was sleeping demonstrate the stark differences – as well as surprising similarities – between the two women’s experiences of motherhood.


Clare Brennan – Curator of Abertay University’s art gallery, the Hannah Maclure Centre – explains more about the exhibition:

“The exhibition takes its name from The Mother Load project, which is an international network of over 100 artists that was established by Lesli Robertson and Natalie Macellaio in 2012.

“All the members of the network are also mothers and the idea behind it comes from the shared challenges that many women face as they try to juggle home life with their need and desire to still be creative.

“This is true of everyone, not only artists, and I think it’s really important for women to find guilt-free time to engage in activities that are just for them, for them to express themselves, finding moments of self-contentment. But we all know that’s not easy! So this project is really a way to try and connect people so that they can learn from each other and inspire each other too.

“The Mother Load was set up in recognition of this as a support network for artists to share ideas and experiences of how they cope with the burden of society’s expectations, and how they find ways to juggle all the different aspects of their lives.”

The Mother Load copper plates_main_2

The artists who join The Mother Load are sent a blank copper plate and asked to mark it with their fingerprints and the fingerprints of each of their children.

The copper plate oxidizes over time, gradually revealing the prints and serving as a physical metaphor for the mother’s new identity – one that changes the moment she becomes a mother.

The other side of the copper plate holds a QR code that links to the artist’s website, tying the project back to the individual artist and the connection their hands have to their practice and their relationships.

An installation of these beautiful printed copper plates makes up the centrepiece of the exhibition. It is constantly evolving as new members join, and this is the first time it has been exhibited in the UK.

As well as highlighting the challenges that motherhood brings, however, the exhibition also turns stereotypical notions of what it means to be a mother on their head, questioning cultural norms.

The Mother Load_House Arrest_main

The playful  ‘House Arrest: Domestic Actions’ is a case in point: sound artist Zoe Irvine and performance artist Pernille Spence – who are both mothers – use eggs, cream, potatoes, fish, kitchen utensils and cleaning products to perform small-scale, resonant domestic actions to camera in a six screen installation piece with multichannel sound.

Their actions allow for subtle transgressions, and these slight contraventions of the norms of domestic behaviour bring heightened consideration to common household acts.

Speaking about the other works in the exhibition, Clare continues:

“We’ve chosen works where the artists have all managed to bring their role as mothers to the forefront of their artistic practice, whether that’s through consciously making their children the focus of their output or through using art as a means of escapism.

Mali De-Kalo’s films ‘Finkelkraut’ and ‘Baudrillard’ are good examples of this. It’s such an honest piece: it doesn’t sugarcoat motherhood at all. In the first film she is reading to her daughter in a voice that makes you think she’s reading a children’s story – except it’s about the 2005 Paris riots. Her daughter doesn’t really understand, but is attentive, nodding along.

“In the second film her daughter is older and not interested at all. Even though her mum is still reading to her in an animated way, she’s resisting any kind of interaction and eventually gets up and walks away. Mali talks about this reading aloud being an act of survival for herself, because reading things that she would have liked to have read for herself allows her to maintain her sanity.

“So there’s great humour in this exhibition but a lot of challenges are represented as well – all of which I’m sure many people will identify with.

“However, the overarching idea that we hope people will take away with them is that, for everyone, not just artists, art can be a way to communicate, support and build a community or personal network that can enrich your life and help you cope with whatever it throws your way.”

Running parallel to the exhibition is a series of events including film screenings, talks, a mini symposium and performative workshops. For the full programme please visit the Hannah Maclure Centre website.

The Mother Load_Hairbonds_main

The US-based Ukrainian artist Marina Shterenberg’s photographic work ‘Hairbonds’ will be added to as part of this programme. Originally a performance piece, it brought women together not only through the bonding of their hair, but also through the conversations that unfolded as the process got underway.

A live version of hairbonding will take place on Sunday 28 February, and local women with long hair are invited to take part. The connected poses will be photographed and will become part of the growing series of ‘Hairbonds’ artworks, which explores the idea that hair has its own sensory awareness, extending the sense of touch beyond the surface of the skin. According to Slavic beliefs, hair acts as a receptor of cosmic energy and the storehouse of memories.

The exhibition previews on Friday 25 February and runs until Friday 15 April in the Hannah Maclure Centre at Abertay University.


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E: k.cameron@abertay.ac.uk

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‘Playful’ digital art exhibition launches NEoN at Abertay

A playful new show by the South Korean artist Ah-Bin Shim will open this year’s NEoN Digital Arts Festival at Abertay University on Sunday 8 November.

Entitled ‘2’, the exhibition explores – with a touch of humour – the highs and lows of life, raising profound questions about the nature of human existence.

Mixing handmade artworks with animated digital sculptures and films, Shim’s multi-modal installations examine desire, solitude, friction and futility, with each of her works externalising the internal conflicts and dilemmas that are common to all of humankind.

In ‘Pendulum’ for example – part of her You & I series – she visualises the futility of trying to grasp hold of time with her video of a grappling hand forever trying to catch the swinging pendulum of a ticking clock mounted on the wall above it.

This idea is echoed in ‘Tug of War’, where a single screen shows a young man pulling with great effort on a long piece of rope. What is at the other end is revealed only with the aid of a mirror which has been placed at a 90 degree angle to show the viewer that really, the man is only playing tug of war with himself.

Clare Brennan – Curator of the Hannah Maclure Centre and one of the organisers of NEoN – explains:

“All of Ah-Bin Shim’s works reflect on real, profound issues – our anxieties as humans and the struggles we all have against our own inner demons. But they look at the absurdity of them as well and are deliberately comical – a form of light relief to these more deep and intense narratives that run through all of our minds.

“With the ticking clock for example, it’s clear that trying to stop time is completely futile, and it brings it home to us that the way we are always trying to do this in our own daily lives – to stop time, slow it down, make things happen on time and that feeling we all have of just constantly being against the clock – is also completely futile.

“With all of her work Shim combines the handmade with the digital, and the exhibition is called ‘2’ because it highlights the many dualities like this that are present in her work – inner conflict versus outward presentation, profundities versus the absurd, futility versus perseverance – all of which are woven together and married up in a way that enables her to speak meaningfully about her ideas.”

With ‘Meaning of a Straight Line’, she again represents thoughts and emotions that are undoubtedly universal: on the surface of an otherwise blank white canvas she has sewn what looks – on the face of it – like a perfectly simple straight black line.

However, being installed free from the wall it is possible to see that, on the back, Shim has stitched a complicated pattern of threads that twist and turn and intertwine, demonstrating that although life can look perfect on the surface things are never quite as they seem underneath.

Shim originally studied in Dundee, gaining her BFA in Time Based Art and her MSc in Electronic Imaging at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design between 2000 and 2004.

The works in the exhibition reflect her output over the last five years, as well as three new pieces commissioned specially for NEoN: ‘I Am Not Watching You’, ‘A Work of a Day’, and ‘The Beginning and the End of the World’ which will be unveiled at the opening.

The exhibition previews on Sunday 8 November and runs from 9 November until 12 February 2016.


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E: k.cameron@abertay.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

NEoN is Scotland’s only digital arts festival, and aims not only to advance the understanding and accessibility of digital and technology driven art forms, but also to influence and reshape the genre by bringing together emerging talent and well-established artists.

For details of the rest of this year’s exciting programme of events, please visit the NEoN website.

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Abertay pioneers new approach to preventing child sexual exploitation

A pioneering research project is underway in Dundee to help ensure young people at risk of child sexual exploitation are being properly protected.

Funded through Comic Relief, the project is being led by the sociologist Dr Jin Nye Na – a Visiting Research Fellow at Abertay University.

Child sexual exploitation is high on the political agenda at the moment but, to date, has only ever been addressed after a scandal has broken – as in the cases of Rotherham and Rochdale.

In a bid to prevent the need for this kind of retrospective investigation, Dundee is taking a radically different approach.

Rather than waiting for the worst to happen, the city is tackling the issue head on by carrying out what is believed to be the most detailed piece of research into sexual violence against children that has ever been conducted in Scotland.

The project – which began in May 2014 – is examining how those who work in the field of child protection assess the risk of child sexual exploitation for any given individual: how they define the term; how frequently they see it occurring; and what prompts them to take action.

The aim is to make sure that the systems and services in place to assist those in vulnerable situations truly meet the needs of those they are intended to help.

The research involves all service providers within the city, meaning not only that Dundee City Council is being assessed, but that the services provided by the police and third sector organisations are also under review.

When the project is complete, recommendations will be made for how to update and further enhance the services within the city.

A toolkit will also be created to streamline the risk-assessment process and make sure that service providers have a robust system in place that offers adequate protection for vulnerable young people across Dundee.

Dr Na explains:

“Child sexual exploitation is an extremely sensitive issue and in the cases of Rotherham and Rochdale, the mechanisms and institutions that were supposed to shield vulnerable young people from harm clearly failed miserably.

“Dundee wants to make sure that nothing similar ever happens here and has taken the bold and proactive step of opening its services up to thorough scrutiny as a preventative measure.

“This means that, instead of an investigation taking place after the event to try and work out how vulnerable children came to be failed by the very system that was supposed to protect them, we will be making sure that no such failure is allowed to happen in the first place.”

She continues:

“Despite what many people think, child sexual exploitation is not a new phenomenon – it’s actually been around for a long time. It’s just that prior to 2009 it was known as child prostitution.

“This means that the services currently in place have been around for many years and, while they may have been able to identify at-risk children in the past, times have changed and there might be changes of patterns of risks for children, so it is vital that we evaluate whether the existing services meet the needs of vulnerable young people in Dundee.

“We’ve got technology at our fingertips these days for example, and social media dominates young people’s lives, so there are new ways in which children can be sexually exploited and therefore new warning signs that need to be looked out for.

“However, these risk-factors may not yet be on everyone’s radar – the ways in which technology is used by young people is undoubtedly different from the ways it is used by the adult population – so it’s possible that early signs of vulnerability may occasionally be missed.

“With this project what we aim to do therefore is carry out a thorough audit of current services to make sure they are up to scratch; to make sure that everyone who works with vulnerable children is able to identify all those who are at risk of sexual exploitation; and to make sure there are no gaps in the system through which a vulnerable child could potentially fall.”

The way this assessment will work is two-fold: firstly, in order to establish a broad picture of the current situation, the researchers have been collecting and analysing existing data and statistics from public authorities and charitable organisations.

However, because these sources are often fragmented – and because the perspectives and purposes of the different organisations involved vary so much – the team have had to gather additional information to support the research.

This has been achieved through conducting detailed and in-depth interviews and focus groups with those who work in the field of child protection – both those who deal directly with children and those in management positions who strategically plan for how child protection policies should be put into practice.

Dr Na concludes:

“It’s a challenging project, not least because there are so many different aspects of child sexual exploitation.

“In general terms it can be described as a specific form of child sexual abuse where the child is given whatever it is they may need – money, food, drugs, shelter, affection – in exchange for sex.

“However, both across the UK as a whole and within Scotland itself – as well as within and between organisations – the definitions are varied, so it is difficult to get data on the exact prevalence of child sexual exploitation.

“This project would benefit from further support and resources, but the approach we are taking means we will still be able to build an overall picture of the situation and establish the true profile of child sexual exploitation in the city.

“The abuse scandals in places like Rotherham and Rochdale have quite rightly received widespread media attention and condemnation, and it is important that we do our utmost to ensure something like this never happens again.”


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308975 M: 07972172158 E: k.cameron@abertay.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

This project is funded by Comic Relief. It began in May 2014.

Dr Jin Nye Na is an independent researcher, currently based at Abertay University where she is a Visiting Research Fellow in the Division of Sociology. She is also lead researcher at the Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre.

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Sperm banking ‘should be free on the NHS’ to reduce risks of genetic disease

Sperm banking should be offered free to all young men in an effort to reduce the risks associated with delayed fatherhood, a new paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics proposes.

This radical initiative has been suggested by Dr Kevin Smith – a bioethicist at Abertay University – in light of the emerging finding that paternal age is strongly linked to an increased incidence of neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia in subsequent generations.

Although the biology of autism and schizophrenia is still poorly understood, the data that have become available since the arrival of modern genetic sequencing methods show unequivocally that de novo (new) mutations – those that are not present in the father’s own genome but that occur in his sperm – can be an important risk factor for such conditions.

These mutations become more frequent with age and, coupled with the current trend towards later fatherhood in western societies, mean that many more children will be affected by genetic disorders in the years to come.

Indeed, some scientists believe that – over time – there will be a substantial reduction in human fitness because, unlike most forms of prenatal damage, the de novo mutations in sperm have the potential to accumulate over several generations.

From both an ethical and evolutionary perspective, Dr Smith states that early fatherhood would be the best way to reduce the risks of this phenomenon – known as the Paternal Age Effect.

However, due to the stigma attached to teenage parents – and in light of the many benefits that are associated with delayed parenthood – he suggests that the most immediate and practical solution is for all young men to be given the option to bank their sperm at the age of 18.

He explains:

“With any new scientific discovery, we must always consider the ethical implications in order to work out what society should or should not do in relation to the new knowledge that has been gained. The recent debate around three-parent families is a case in point, and paternal age is no different.

“We know, for instance, that there is a strong correlation between paternal age and new mutations occurring in the stem cells from which sperm are derived.

“These mutations occur deep down at the molecular level and can be as subtle as individual letters of a person’s genetic alphabet changing, or small parts of a gene being omitted or duplicated.

“This makes them very different from the genetic anomalies that are associated with maternal ageing – such as those that cause Down’s Syndrome where an entire extra chromosome, which encodes thousands of genes, is present.

“The de novo mutations in sperm aren’t usually detectable prior to birth in the way that Down’s Syndrome can be so, until recently, we knew very little about how frequently they occur.

“A number of recent modern genetic sequencing studies, however, have shown that a surprisingly high level of these new mutations occur in each and every new generation – and that the older the father gets, the more mutations there are.

“While most forms of prenatal damage primarily affect only a single generation, these types of deleterious de novo mutations have the potential to create medical problems in future generations, which suggests that extra weight should be attached to the importance of paternal age.

“If we truly want to prevent future generations suffering from the preventable diseases associated with the Paternal Age Effect, we need to start thinking about how to reduce the risks sooner rather than later.”

In the paper, Dr Smith goes on to raise and answer a number of other ethical points, both in respect of individual procreative decisions and societal responsibilities:

“If you’re a man and you know there’s a risk that your age will increase the chances of your child having a genetic disorder, you may want to know what the best age for you to have children at is in order to reduce the risk of a genetic disorder developing in your offspring.

“From the evidence that has come to light over the past few years it is clear that earlier fatherhood is desirable in terms of maximising genetic integrity.

“However the reality is, of course, far more complex, and in establishing the ‘best’ age to become a father other considerations beyond genetic concerns need to be taken into account – the stigma of teenage pregnancy needs to be contended with, for example, and there are many advantages to being an older parent, such as increased financial stability and life experience.

“So we need to find a balance and, although the sperm banking option may seem fairly radical, in principle it is quite simple.”

Dr Smith asserts that ethically, there are no obstacles to its implementation: reliable artificial insemination and sperm storage facilities already exist, sperm can be stored successfully ad infinitum, and can be used at any time in life – all that is required is an accompanying public health campaign.

He concludes:

“Although it would require a change in what we as society currently think is acceptable, this could easily be solved with a public health campaign. These have been successful in the past – for example where the link between smoking and low birthweight was established.

“The risks associated with delayed fatherhood are not at present widely known and, from an ethical perspective, those considering parenthood must be made aware of these risks so that they can make a properly informed decision.

“Coupled with the sperm banking option – which could be made freely available through the NHS – this is the best way to reduce the risks of disease associated with de novo mutations for future generations.”


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E: k.cameron@abertay.ac.uk

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World-first as fingerprints taken from golden eagle feathers and eggs

Fingerprint on a red kite feather

Fingerprint on a red kite feather

Forensic scientists at Abertay University have identified the most efficient way of recovering fingerprints from the feathers and eggs of birds of prey, publishing the world’s first academic research paper on the subject.

Although there has been anecdotal evidence of fingerprints being recovered from feathers before, this is the first time that a tried and tested method looking specifically at birds of prey has been established and the results published.

In the UK all wild birds, their nests and their eggs are protected by law. However, wildlife crime is on the rise: since 2006, 2,578 incidents of bird crime involving or targeting wild birds of prey have been reported to the RSPB.

Shooting, poisoning and trapping are the most frequent methods used.

Additionally – despite the illegal collection of the eggs of birds of prey being in decline – the practice continues.

Although there is a perception among the general public that fingermarks are being superseded by DNA, the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology reports that they still account for more identifications overall and show no signs of being phased from use.

Indeed, when it comes to wildlife crime, they may actually be the main link between the suspect and the crime.

Golden eagle egg fingerprint

Fingerprint on a golden eagle egg

Dennis Gentles – a former scenes of crime officer and forensic scientist who is now a lecturer in forensic science at Abertay – explains:

“There are some surfaces where recovering fingerprints remains elusive – human and animal skin, for example. And, until now, feathers were on that list.

“We had heard anecdotally that it had been achieved, and were keen to see if we could develop a method that produced consistent results and could be used by the police in an investigation.

“So, what we have done is establish which fingerprint powders would be most effective at developing fingermarks on the flight feathers of birds of prey.

“It had not been established which of the many different fingerprint powders available would work before and, although they would have been examined using one form of fingerprint development, there was always a risk of damaging the evidence and, as a consequence, wasting time and effort.

“Now, if the police examine a discarded bird of prey for fingerprints following our guidelines, any fingermarks that have been left there will become visible.

“If a fingermark shows up, it is proof that the bird has been handled, and suggests that it was discarded on someone else’s land as the perpetrator tried to get rid of the carcass.

“Even if they don’t manage to recover an identifiable fingermark, the presence of the mark means that they know exactly where to focus their attention to swab for DNA and that this particular bird of prey had been handled by a human.

“So we hope that this research will help the police in their endeavours to bring those guilty of wildlife crime to justice. They will now be able to recover more evidence – and it will be evidence that could potentially link a suspect to the crime.”

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland, welcomed this research:

“Since 1994, almost 750 protected birds of prey have been confirmed as being the victims of illegal poisoning, shooting or trapping in Scotland. This has included some of our rarest breeding species like golden eagles, hen harriers and red kites whose populations continue to be threatened by illegal killing.

“While government laboratory testing has made it relatively straightforward to identify the cause of death of the victims in many cases, identifying the perpetrator of offences that often take place in some of the remotest areas of our countryside continues to be very difficult.

“Although there has been a reduction in the number of cases of illegal egg collection, the practice still exists, and there is evidence that illegal egg collectors are now increasingly operating abroad.

“This work carried out by Abertay University is a great step forward in the development of forensic techniques and can only assist in the fight against those who threaten some of our most iconic raptors.”

A total of six species of bird of prey feathers (kestrel, sparrowhawk, buzzard, red kite, golden eagle and white-tailed eagle) and seven species of bird of prey eggs (kestrel, sparrowhawk, golden eagle, goshawk, tawny owl, barn owl and long-eared owl) were examined in this research.

The results showed that red and green magnetic fluorescent powders were the most successful at recovering fingerprints from the feathers.

The microscopic weave structure of a feather has been likened to that of fine weave fabrics such as nylon.  The best prints were achieved on feathers with a finer weave, such as the red kite and buzzard.

Black magnetic powder was the most successful at recovering fingermarks from eggs.

Full details of the methods used are in the research paper, which has been published in the journal Science & Justice.


Notes to Editors:

  • The University was granted a license to be in possession of the eggs by – and received funding from – Scottish Natural Heritage.
  • The eagle feathers and eggs were provided by a local falconer. All other feathers and eggs were provided by Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) and a local museum.
  • Due to the remote location of the illegal shooting, poisoning and trapping of birds of prey, the RSPB believe that reported incidents represent a fraction of the actual number.
  • Operation Easter – a UK-wide campaign run by the police and supported by the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the RSPB – is run every year in an effort to crack down on the crime of illegal egg collection.

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Revolutionary shift in treating mental health problems

An innovative new way of assessing a person’s recovery from mental health problems has been developed by the mental health charity Penumbra and Abertay University.

Unlike most assessments which contain long lists of questions, I.ROC – the Individual Recovery Outcomes Counter – is a colourful little booklet full of cheerful graphics.

I.ROC materials developed by Penumbra_01

I.ROC materials

Its innovation lies in the fact that it measures recovery, rather than symptoms and level of illness – the focus of most existing questionnaires.

Recovery is the ability to live a meaningful and fulfilling life in spite of mental illness, and I.ROC measures this by asking just 12 questions which focus on areas of people’s lives that are known to have an impact on mental health and wellbeing.

These include how much control a person has over decisions that affect them, how much they value and respect themselves, and how much hope they have for the future.

Every three months, each of these 12 indicators of wellbeing is rated by the user on a scale of one (never) to six (always), and plotted onto the I.ROC chart.


The I.ROC chart

When the plotted dots are joined together, it gives that person an instant, visual appraisal of their wellbeing and shows them where they can make small, practical changes in their lives that will, over time, add up to sustained and measurable improvements.

Mandy McLernon, Support Manager at Penumbra’s Angus Nova Project in Arbroath, explains how it works in practice:

“Although it can just look like a piece of paper with some lines on it at first, the beauty of I.ROC is that the first one you do is just your baseline so, when you come to fill in your second and third one, you can see – right there in front of your eyes – that you have slowly but surely been making improvements.

“If you’ve scored just a one for something like your social network and how much you take part in community activities, then you can sit down with your support worker and think of ways that you could improve that score.

“The aim isn’t to make a giant leap from a one to a six overnight, but by getting someone to think to themselves ‘how could I get from a one to a two?’ they begin to make small, positive changes in their lives that not only improve their mental health because they’re doing them, but also improve their feelings of self-worth and pride in who they are as a person in and of themselves.

“These feelings of achievement and accomplishment can do wonders for a person’s self-esteem – something that is often lacking in people going through mental health difficulties. People with mental health issues often find it hard to monitor their feelings, but because I.ROC is so visual, it really helps people keep on top of things.”

Mandy McLernon and Robin Ross_03

Mandy McLernon and Robin Ross doing Robin’s I.ROC

I.ROC has been created from the bottom up, in close collaboration with those experiencing mental health difficulties and those who support them – the first time the experiences of the people who actually use such tools has been taken into consideration in their development.

This new approach means that the people who use Penumbra’s services are turning from passive recipients of care into experts in their own wellbeing and recovery – a radical and revolutionary shift away from the traditional medical model.

Robin Ion – Head of the Division of Mental Health Nursing at Abertay University, who was involved in validating I.ROC – explains:

“In the past, and in many existing mental health services, there was a focus on cure and not recovery.

“The biological model focusses almost exclusively on treating mental health problems with medication, and there is very little attention given to helping the person to develop strategies for coping with what they are experiencing and to live a good life with or without these experiences.

“But living a meaningful and fulfilling life in spite of mental distress is what recovery is all about – and this is what I.ROC helps people to achieve.

“By looking at the individual in the round, it builds up a picture of everything that impacts on their mental health, both good and bad. It recognises the positives, but also helps identify the areas they need to work on or get help with so that they can improve their own wellbeing. With I.ROC’s help, people learn to cope, and also begin to live fulfilling lives again.”


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E: k.cameron@abertay.ac.uk

Case Study

Robin Ross

Robin first came to Penumbra two years ago, after finally being diagnosed with bipolar disorder after many years of mental health problems.

Having used many mental health assessments in the past which made little difference to his life, the changes that I.ROC has brought about have been exponential, as he explains:

“When I first came to Penumbra, I was in a very bad way. I had suffered from depression for many years, but had only relatively recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And it was hard coming to terms with that diagnosis because there’s a lot of stigma attached to mental health, and I felt ashamed and guilty because I had a mental health problem.

“I’m a trained psychiatric nurse, and when I started out, there was no concept of ‘recovery’ – that you could live a meaningful and fulfilling life at the same time as having a mental illness. It was just accepted that you would always be ill and that you would get progressively worse as time went by. So I really had no hope until I came to Penumbra and was introduced to the idea that it would actually be possible to improve my situation.

“And I.ROC has been central to my recovery. When I look at my first I.ROC I did two years ago, and compare it to my most recent one, I can hardly believe how far I’ve come. My life was so small back then – you can see that in my chart. I had very low scores for things like my personal and social networks – I had very few friends, I didn’t feel in control of my life, I wasn’t doing anything that made me feel happy, and I was really isolating myself because I had such low self-esteem.

“But that’s why I.ROC is so effective – it shows you at a glance where you need to address things. You take it home and look at it and think, ‘wow, there are actually things I could do to get myself higher scores in these areas I’m doing badly in.’ And that’s a really empowering feeling. So, rather than simply taking the pills the doctor prescribes you and believing that that’s all you can do for yourself, your support worker helps you to think of things you could do yourself to improve your own wellbeing. For me, it was starting up some hobbies – I went to Tai Chi at first, then creative writing lessons and eventually took up guitar lessons as well. I filled my life with things I enjoyed, little by little, and it has completely turned my life around!

“It wasn’t easy though, and it didn’t happen overnight. But that’s the point of I.ROC – it builds you week after week, month after month, into a more rounded person. It lets you know where you are today and that you can improve on that. You can look at your chart and think ‘well, today I want to score a two instead of a one, so what can I do to improve it a little?’

“It’s hard work, but you have to remember that to get through a mental health issue takes real strength. You need to count yourself lucky that you know you’ve got a mental health issue, because then you can work on your recovery.

“It’s amazing to look back at that first I.ROC I did and to see just how much power I had lost in my life. But equally amazing to see how different my life is now. That’s one of the main things that I.ROC has helped me to work on – how to feel empowered and like I am actually living my life, rather than my disorder. I had really just given myself over to the care of others before I came to Penumbra, and didn’t realise that I had a role to play in my own care. Seeing the progress I’ve made on my journey of recovery through I.ROC is incredible. I am engaged in my own care now, and it is truly empowering to know that.”

Notes to Editors:

Abertay University specialises in Mental Health Nursing, and intends to develop a Centre for Excellence in Mental Health Nursing over the next few years.

Penumbra is a mental health charity based in Scotland, providing a wide range of services which offer hope and practical steps towards recovery – the ability to live a meaningful and fulfilling live in the presence or absence of any mental health problems. The organisation campaigns to influence national and local government policy, and to increase public knowledge and understanding about mental ill health.

Peer-reviewed research has shown that I.ROC is a valid, robust and reliable measure of recovery.

I.ROC is now used routinely within Penumbra and a number of other organisations across the UK. There has also been some international interest which may lead to I.ROC being translated into other languages.

The 12 indicators of wellbeing are:

  • Mental Health
  • Life Skills
  • Safety and Comfort
  • Exercise and Activity
  • Physical Health
  • Purpose and Direction
  • Personal Network
  • Social Network
  • Valuing Myself
  • Participation and Control
  • Self Management
  • Hope for the Future

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