It's not often anyone has the joy of writing a letter of thanks, which includes the following paragraph,
"I was particularly interested in your commitment to improving resources for elderly person's podiatry services in the Medway Towns following your chance encounter with an elderly fan of Bruce Forsyth's Strictly Come Dancing."
The letter was sent in response to a meeting I had yesterday with a local supporter and GP, who is also Chairman of the Medway Clinical Commissioning Group. He had called in for a general chat and to keep me up to date with his new role, part of the health reforms which bring together health providers, local authorities, patients and the wider community, to deliver a better, more cost effective and efficient health service.
I asked if there was yet any concrete evidence of the reforms working, or bringing about positive change for those who use and need services most, ie, the patients. Too often, reforms are hailed as a success as they streamline internal structures or create new bureaucracies, whilst not doing anything for the end users.
The story he told was of an elderly lady who lived in a residential care home. She appeared at one of the public meetings he now regularly holds and raised the issue of waiting lists for podiatry services. Apparently the wait was up to 9 months (and was likewise under the last government, too). In an environment which understandably focuses on acute care, podiatry might not seem a priority, but if you are elderly and in agony with ingrowing toenails or bunions, and cannot put on your shoes or walk due to the pain, the consequences are very severe. People walking in pain are more likely to fall, or become inactive and immobile leading to increased threat of strokes or thrombosis. Therefore improvements in provision of a reasonably low cost service can actually save the Health Service considerable sums of money dealing with falls, broken hips and more serious conditions, whilst also significantly improving the quality of life.
The central point of this tale, however, was the lady's insistence that any improvements were in place "by September at the latest". She made the point audibly and kept returning to it. My GP friend asked why September was so important, he could see no significance of the month "Is your concern based on the onset of autumn and the increased fear of slipping on fallen leaves", he enquired.
"you might be a doctor, but you're not very bright, are you?" said the lady. "The new series of Brucie's Strictly Come Dancing starts in October and we all like to dance around with the celebrities. How do you expect us to do that if we've all got painful bunions and corns?"
Following the exchange he visited several care homes and found out just how extensive the problem was. As a result, he arranged for increased resources into podiatry and our ladies have now been promised treatment before the return of Bruce and his dancing celebrities.
An amusing, but no less important example of how when service providers actually come face to face with their customers, it can bring about change. Let's hope this is just the tip of the iceberg and our health providers really do start to remember that patients are the customers, whose taxes have paid for the services they receive, and are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.