I have an admission to make. Although a non executive member of NHS Dumfries and Galloway, I have never worked in the NHS at the coal face. However, the NHS was involved at the start of my life, and I suspect the same will be true for the end.
The NHS was five years old when I was born in an NHS maternity home in Ayrshire. Within three days I was operated on for an intestinal problem, and when my mother got me home and I made my first visit to our GP, he detected a heart murmur. So began my life and my NHS journey.
Frequent visits to Kilmarnock Infirmary and various Glasgow Hospitals became part of the pattern of my childhood. Some appointments lasted an hour, some necessitated week long stays in hospital for more complicated tests.
In 1965 I had open heart surgery to repair an ASD (hole in the heart) and leaking mitral valve. I made steady if slow recovery, and by the age of 17 was told I was as good as new and went off to live life.
There followed the healthiest twenty years of my life. I got a career, I married and we started a family. In 1984 we moved to London.
I‘d had a minor episode with a stone in the kidney in 1978, but in 1988 this returned with more serious consequences. It dogged the next eleven years, with frequent visits and admissions to Northwick Park Hospital, and eventually successful removal of the stone in 1999 at West Middlesex Hospital.
Now that all was well, we moved back to Scotland although I continued to work in London. Then in 2002, out of the blue, my heart problems came back to bite me. I was hospitalised at Northwick Park, and back in Scotland sought out the expertise of the Arrythmia Team at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Unfortunately, after numerous tests and a third failed cardioversion, I realised I had to live with my new condition and carve out the best quality of life possible in the circumstances. Over the next few years I collected several more LTC’s
So a lot of my time now is devoted to medical appointments and proactively managing my conditions. It is a bit boring, but the rewards are a quality of life denied to many suffering from the same or similar LTC’s.
My journey so far has taught me many lessons, and I have seen the best and the worst of the NHS. Here are some of the lessons.
The patient is not always right, but has the right to be wrong. It is their life.
Only the patient experiences the patient journey from beginning to end.
No one cares more about my health than I do.
No hospital maintains the same quality throughout. One hospital I attended had its maternity unit put into special measures and several other wards were a disgrace. But End of Life Care and Cardiology were outstanding. Another, an old crumbling Victorian edifice with poor facilities, gave some wonderful nursing and clinical care through dedicated teams. It has now been demolished and a new hospital built on the site.
Patient empowerment and patient self management see much better outcomes than leaving it all to the doctor. Taking responsibility for your health is a great way of ensuring the best quality of life possible, and the best from the NHS. Managing our health should be a partnership between patient and clinicians.
I now have multiple Long Term Conditions and mobility issues, but still maintain the best quality of life possible through self managing my health and proactively seeking information on my lifestyle and health conditions.
I became an elected non executive member of NHSDG in 2012 knowing that making even the slightest difference for the better was important. Drive for continuous improvement maintains my sense of purpose. I bring to the table experience gained from a life in the NHS, and a career in public service spanning over 40 years. In 2014 I was appointed as a non executive member..
I know the NHS is not perfect, and never will be, but it is a fine organisation staffed by many dedicated and highly skilled people who every day do their best.
The NHS today faces many challenges. Staff will experience frequent changes and difficulties, but so will patients. Both need to embrace change and accept that we must do things differently if the NHS is to face the future fit for purpose. And key is for us the patients to take responsibility for managing our own health, and clinicians and health professionals empowering us to do so.
The future should be bright for the NHS, but success will require hard work, tough decisions, and the support of patients and staff alike.
I am looking forward to many more years of life in the NHS.
Robert Allan is a Non Executive Member of the NHS Dumfries and Galloway Health Board.