What the NHS means to me (Chris Beeley)


I’ve pretty much always wanted to work in the NHS. The first job I remember ever wanting was brain surgeon when I was about 8 years old because I gathered that’s what clever kids did when they grew up. Anyone who has seen any of my attempts at DIY will be glad I didn’t fulfil that ambition!

As I got older, it became a bit more sophisticated. At 11, I wanted to be a “genetic engineer” because it was new and exciting at the time. By the age of 14 I’d caught the psychology bug and then pretty soon I had my heart set on clinical psychology. I spent 6 years at university studying psychology and worked as a nursing assistant on acute and forensic psychiatric wards and finally…

Became a computer programmer! Don’t ask. It’s a long story, and it has words like “statistical programming language” in it. And “reactive programming”.

The point of all this is that I’ve always wanted to help people who are sick, and very early in life I wanted to help people with mental health problems because I learned how debilitating they can be and also how marginal psychiatry is to the rest of medicine. It turns out I’m a lot better at sitting all day writing reams of code and designing databases and dashboards than I would be actually sitting down with a real person and helping them with their actual problem, but I strive every day to make the NHS more intelligent and to help the NHS understand its patients and staff in order to help them better.

The NHS cares about everybody. It doesn’t care if you’re rich, or poor. It doesn’t care where you live. It doesn’t care what colour you are, what language you speak, what religion you follow. If you are sick, the NHS will help you. And if you are well, the NHS has a myriad number of things you can do for it, paid and unpaid, to help those who are not well. It’s a fantastical, miraculous, wonderful thing, and it is filled to the brim with fantastical, miraculous, wonderful people who go above and beyond every day to help those who really need it.

I loved the NHS long before it ever did much for me, but I’ve had quite a lot of experience at the other (patient) end too. I was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease aged 11 and a rather serious and rare liver disease at the age of 22. My health declined throughout my 30s and four years ago I found myself dying of liver disease. I was promptly assessed and received a liver transplant in 2016. I received a huge amount of help from nurses, doctors, surgeons, dietitians, and all the other people involved in such a complex and difficult operation. By 2017 my bowel disease was back with a vengeance and I required it to be removed, along with my spleen, in a very complex and difficult operation which required not one but two highly experienced and specialised consultant surgeons (one for the bowel, one for the spleen). I suffered serious internal bleeding afterwards and spent about two weeks on the ward being very sick.

I again received a huge amount of very dedicated care, 24 hours a day, from another whole set of caring and highly skilled professionals. I won’t ever forget what they did for me, saving my life twice in two years, nor will I forget the small acts of kindness shown to me by everyone- domestic staff, nursing assistants, nurses, registrars, consultants, radiographers, and all the rest.

The NHS isn’t a job to these people. It’s a calling. And so it is for me, too. And I’m proud to support it with my taxes and proud to dedicate my working life to making it better.

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