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16 August 2013
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Politics, Power and Persuasion….evidenced by Mr Gillingham

Lunchtime brought with it the chance to scout for fellow volunteers happy enough to brave the canteen. It was a Friday ritual: other days of the week just didn’t cut it when it came to trekking across site to join the snaking queue.  Because Friday was, of course, fish day. And our canteen cooked up the best fish and chips for miles around.

This particular day, only two others were in the mood to go. One regular had given it up in light of a forthcoming holiday and an imperative to slim down. Us portly three went off to indulge, chatting as we walked. Until, that is, we rounded a corner to be met by a knot of be-suited folks moving slowly ahead of us and causing something of a tailback.

“It’s the MP!” hissed an old lady to our left and behind. “Don’t you recognize him? Him who was on last week about that school thing. You know!” I didn’t. And neither did either of my two friends. To be fair, we had only seen five greyish heads from the rear. They could have been anybody.

At which point, with comic timing, my pal’s phone went off. This wouldn’t normally be such a big deal except for the fact that it jingles along to a well-known children’s postman theme. Answering it, he quickly became concerned. One of his patients from the morning list was deteriorating. We all three of us offered to go to the ward with him and help in any way we could.

Without thinking we pushed past the group ahead with gasped apologies. The MP-apparent turned to face me and, as I explained we needed to get to an emergency, nodded and said “All the best….Hope it goes okay whatever you’re doing.” The latter part of his reply was hardly heard: we were already puffing out of earshot.

On the ward, the patient has clearly sustained an internal bleed and needed both resuscitation and a return to theatre. We quickly organized ourselves – fluids, additional IV access, ringing the anaesthetist, sorting out the theatre staff – and within thirty minutes, the patient, who I’ll call Mr Gillingham, was on the table.

After the weekend, the three of us made an exception to established routine and met up again for lunch. The menu was alien to us: we’d never been on this day before. To our surprise, not only was there a decent range of hot mains, there was also, yes, the MP again – but this time sitting eating lunch himself with a lady. Looking up from his meal he raised a hand to beckon us over.

“You’re the three who ran past me on Friday, aren’t you?” he began. “How was everything? Sitting down without thinking about the tryst we might be spoiling we described to this nice man what had occasioned us being in the queue, what the postman’s chimes had signified, what we did on the ward and what had become of the patient. Mr Gillingham was by this stage sitting up in bed again and able to read the newspaper.

At the end of our story, he looked at the table in front of him. “My own father died in this hospital after an operation eleven years ago,” he said quietly, “and there was nobody around to see that he had deteriorated. The inquest said as much.” What could we do but offer condolences. It was a difficult moment, if only because we hardly knew this person and had innocently been there just to buy lunch.

“Look, you guys are just what we mean when we say that the NHS is full of brilliant staff,” stated the MP to our immediate embarrassment. “How can I help push that message? People need to know what brilliant doctors we have working here. I’m visiting last week and this to see the Board and work on some community ideas. But this is more interesting. Can’t I persuade you to do something public?”

We baulked immediately, not being at all keen to do anything more public than take our kids to the park. “We’d rather not” came our response, or some such. “Don’t you find it awkward, being on show for the television and radio all the time?”

He laughed, as did the lady with him, who was a publicist from his constituency office. “It’s what I do,” he smiled. “I’m doing my job.”

“So were we,” said my friend. The MP smiled and nodded, and understood our point. We didn’t need publicity, didn’t want it. All of us – the MP, his agent, us three looking for our fish and chips – were just doing what we did every day to the best of our abilities.

And we don’t need any persuasion to do that.

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About the author

Darren Kilroy's picture

Darren Kilroy

Darren Kilroy FCEM M.Ed. Ph.D. is a Consultant in Emergency Medicine in Cheshire, and Director for Network Leadership and Development in Unscheduled Care. He is also Hon. Senior Lecturer in Emergency Care at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Clinical Lead for Unscheduled Care at NHS Stockport. His main areas of interest are the challenges of clinical and managerial engagement around emergent clinical commissioning models, and the role of clinical leadership within transformational change.


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