We kinda like Sinead. She's nice and chill and a good conversation partner. We managed to steal a tiny bit of her time and get her to share her story with us. What makes her tick, why the NHS, and all sorts of stuff like that.
Until three years ago, my interaction with the NHS was limited to free contraception and the odd infection. But that all changed when both my parents-in-law got seriously ill. My mother-in-law Helene was diagnosed with colorectal cancer first. The doctors thought they had caught it early and she started on a round of chemotherapy and radiation. During her treatment, my father-in-law Jonathan had a seizure and was diagnosed with glioblastoma - an aggressive brain cancer. He was dead within nine months.
Sadly, Helene’s cancer was more advanced than originally thought and she had an operation to remove part of her colon and all of her rectum leaving her with a colostomy bag. Despite the operation being a success, she never recovered her health and went on to have secondary lung cancer, a heart operation and a host of other conditions as side effects from the treatments. After a valiant battle, she died in Westmoreland Hospital 10 days ago with her children by her side.
I have been humbled at the care that both Helene and Jonathan have received. All the healthcare professionals we have met from the teams of oncologists, the nurses, the home carers, to the registrar with tears in his eyes as Helene was dying, were incredible.
But these interactions also showed me the inefficiencies of the NHS. The paper letters for appointments that would get lost. The constant outpatients' appointments at different hospitals that Helene dreaded getting out of bed for. Having to turn up at 8 am for a chemo appointment and not getting home until 10 pm that night exhausted. Not knowing when the carer from the Council might show up to help Jonathan when he was bed bound at the end.
In my previous role at Health Foundry and my new role at Nesta, I am passionate about how we can harness digital technology to reduce the inefficiencies in the NHS and provide a better service for patients. I am interested in how genomics and aggregation of social data could provide a more personalised treatment pathway for patients like Jonathan and Helene. I am passionate about how we can move treatments like chemotherapy to the home and how we can use technology to reduce outpatient appointments to free up clinic time and reduce the stress of ill patients having to travel to the hospital. I hope to be part of making this a reality.
Happy birthday, NHS!