Jayne Dowle: Kate Granger's precious legacy can impact upon all our lives
I AM so saddened by the death of West Yorkshire doctor Kate Granger MBE, who has died from cancer at the age of 34. It is far too young to be taken, and my heart goes out to her husband and loved ones. What a legacy she has left though.
As a patient – her first book, The Other Side, chronicles the experience of her diagnosis and treatment – she was shocked by the off-hand attitude of too many of the medical and nursing staff who cared for her.
In particular, she was concerned that they failed to do one simple thing: introduce themselves by name. So she started the #hellomynameis campaign to show hospitals and health organisations that communication is absolutely key to both effective treatment and respect between medical staff and patients. In her words, the campaign is the “first rung on the ladder to providing truly person-centre compassionate care”.
I’m pleased to report that it has become a huge success, and has been adopted by health services all over the world. More than 400,000 workers in over 90 organisations have pledged to back her initiative, which she originally spread through the power of social media.
It is such a simple idea, but it has the power to change lives. It is interesting that Dr Granger, from East Ardsley, near Leeds, was a specialist in geriatric medicine.
Everyone who is ill or injured deserves politeness and respect from those who are treating them.
However, it is at both ends of life’s spectrum where this is especially important. In hospital, the very young and the elderly are the most vulnerable, and the most frightened and confused.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes on the ward where my dad has been hospitalised for the past three weeks. One of his room-mates has been “Sam”, a chap aged in his 90s and who had a new pacemaker fitted. Sam was a pleasant man really, but very confused and prone to throwing things around his bed. One day he took everything off his dinner tray and poured his water jug over the lot. Another day he raised his fist to a nurse in frustration, most probably borne of fear. To watch the nurses looking after him was a lesson in humility though; the patience they showed and the dignity they afforded this elderly gentleman, in very trying circumstances, was nothing short of amazing.
Dad’s the long-stayer on this ward now. He is suffering from a complex problem involving his heart and his kidneys which is taking some sorting out. He certainly knows from first-hand experience what a difference a friendly nurse or doctor can make to his day. As does my mother, who definitely knows when she is being patronised or brushed off. And they both report that with just a couple of exceptions, the principles of #hellomynameis is alive and well at Barnsley Hospital.
From the lady who brings the meals to the consultant who is dealing with dad’s case, and all the nurses who look after him, there is nothing but a positive attitude. And although a smile and a kind word can’t make him better, it can make a massive improvement to his state of mind.
I’ve been in hospitals, both as a patient and a visitor, where the staff just didn’t seem to care. I know that long hours, frustration and aching feet come as part of the job, but there is no need to take this out on the patients. There is nothing worse than being ill and feeling that you are a nuisance.
Some years ago, I suffered a miscarriage and I remember the haughty obstetrician who didn’t even bother to introduce herself. I had two small children under five, and I didn’t want them to see their mother in distress, but she dismissed my concerns about returning home to “allow nature to take its course”.
I had to beg her for a simple operation, which she eventually conceded to. By the end of my plea, the young houseman accompanying her was in tears. If anything good was to come of that fraught half-hour, I’d like to think that this junior doctor eventually graduated with more of an understanding of how to handle patients than her senior colleague.
Some medical staff are naturally blessed with a sympathetic approach. Others, sadly, have much to learn. The example that Kate Granger set, and the campaign she created, proves this.
Also, through all kinds of fundraising efforts, from the publication of two books to bake sales which Dr Granger herself made cupcakes for, this amazingly inspirational woman raised more than £250,000 for the Yorkshire Cancer Centre. This will be hugely valuable.
More precious still is the legacy she left behind which has the potential to impact upon the lives of every single one of us.
No-one knows when they might need a hospital, a consultant, a surgeon or a nurse.
If we do though, it is good to know that we now have a better chance of being treated with kindness and consideration, thanks to one determined doctor from West Yorkshire. And no one can put a price on that.