NHS 70 Celebrating 70 years of the NHS - Everyday Heroes

Lucy Moreton, Primary Care Workforce Tutor

“It sounds very clichéd but I grew up wanting to be a nurse so I could help people,” explains Lucy Moreton, now a Primary Care Workforce Tutor at North West Surrey CCG.

“I had a role model in my cousin who was a paediatric nurse and my parents enrolled me in St John’s Ambulance brigade as a cadet so that I could gain some insight – that’s where I first learnt my hospital corners when making a bed! I always enjoyed the excitement that attending events as a first aider gave me, even though it was only applying plasters and slings at that point in time.”

After completing her training and landing her first job in the Medical Assessment Unit at St Peter’s Hospital, she moved to the Accident and Emergency Departments at both Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals where she spent four years honing her craft in one of the most pressured environments in the health system. And then a chance opportunity to ‘go west’ took her career to another level.

Lucy In The Us

“In 2005 I took the leap and moved to Orlando, Florida to work in the Emergency Room, where I faced a huge learning curve. The nurses were trained differently and tasks such as venepuncture and cannulation were something they had started doing as students. At the time these were advanced skills in the NHS and not something I can say that I had mastered before I arrived in Florida!

“It wasn’t long before I considered myself an expert in venepuncture and I could get blood out of anyone. I also picked up skills in chest auscultation, bowel sounds, ECG interpretation and even titration of anaesthetic drugs. When I returned to the UK four years later I felt like Wonder Woman, although quickly realised that back home the nurses had picked up many of the same skills themselves – the evolution of Super Nurses was already happening!”

Lucy’s assertion that the role of the nurse has evolved beyond recognition since its origins 70 years ago is irrefutable and, as she says, “The knowledge and skills of those working on the front line now is just astounding.”

Another indisputable fact is how lucky we are to have a health service available to all and based on clinical need, rather than the ability to pay.

As Lucy puts it, “Working for private companies in the US and having to pay for health insurance made me realise just how fantastic our NHS is. I often joke that my daughter, who suffers with multiple food allergies and anaphylaxis, would have bankrupted us if we had still lived there when she came along!” 

Karen Thornburn, Managing Director

One of the principle ideas behind the replacement of Primary Care Trusts in 2013 with Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) is that they would be clinically-led, therefore better placed to make crucial decisions around the planning and buying of health care services for their local area.

Who better then to assume the role as North West Surrey CCG’s Managing Director than a Registered Nurse and health visitor of 34 years’ NHS experience across acute and community healthcare and service commissioning in Scotland and the South of England

Karen Thorburn has worked the frontline in general medicine, haematology and a bone marrow transplant unit, an acute medical admission/regional poisons unit and a cardiac surgery intensive care unit.

“As a health visitor I initiated an HIV/AIDS network across central Scotland providing health visiting advice and support to patients. In Edinburgh I specialised in safeguarding, Heart Manual home-based cardiac rehab, and rolled out the Public Health Nursing Strategy across Lothian.

“I’ve worked with Edinburgh, Queen Margaret and Napier Universities supporting pre and post registration nursing placements in the community and was a visiting lecturer at QMUC.”

Karen Uniform

Then came a move south and a series of senior and director-level nursing and quality roles across Sussex and Surrey, both of which feed into and inform her current wide-ranging portfolio of responsibilities as MD.

These include commissioning and development of General Practice in North West Surrey; the commissioning of community health services (usually delivered by nurses and therapists in patients’ own homes); relationship management with local hospital trusts – including oversight of the Weybridge Hospital rebuild after its catastrophic 2017 fire; programme lead for Stroke and Urgent & Integrated Care across Surrey Heartlands; and accountability for her CCG’s performance, planning and QIPP delivery (a nationwide NHS England initiative to deliver a better quality of service using money more efficiently)

As she sets out, “it’s the urgent care, stroke and ‘patch performance’ which majors most on our NHS constitutional standards of there being unwavering focus on patient experience and the quality of services offered. I place a very strong focus on quality and the CCG’s duty to improve quality of care across the board.

“The biggest and most impactful change in recent times is in the care of stroke patients and the use of clot busting agents. When I started my career a patient suffering a stroke would be kept comfortable in bed, monitored and then rehabilitated. The morbidity and mortality was immense. Today a patient who has a stroke caused by a clot can have medication that clears the clot and be home after a short stay in hospital with early supported discharge.  It is a massive change in outcomes and something we should be very proud of.”

Liz Patroe, Head of Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion

As the UK’s biggest employer, the NHS offers a wealth of opportunity for career progression to its 1.7million1 staff. It’s not uncommon for employees to serve many years in the health service but in various roles and departments.

“I have worked in so many different roles throughout my 25 years!” explains Liz Patroe, Head of Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion for the Surrey Heartlands CCGs. “That’s the great thing about working in the NHS – you may join as one thing but there are so many opportunities.

“Most people think of hospitals when they think about the NHS but my career has spanned community clinics, GP practices, people’s homes, offices, conference halls and even the Houses of Parliament.”

Liz trained as a dietitian in 1992 and describes the NHS as the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to developing skills and knowledge. “The huge range of people you have the privilege of caring for means that there is always something different on the horizon. Add to that the dedicated bunch of people that you work alongside, and you have a fantastic recipe for lifelong learning,” she says.

A secondment to Diabetes UK to manage a programme awarding grants to black and minority ethnic community groups for diabetes awareness led to a new direction for Liz, as she continued focusing on the value of patient and public involvement in programme design.

“At all times, whether working on stroke and atrial fibrillation or falls prevention, I involved patients and the public via reference groups, local implementation teams, shadow boards, patient and carer representatives, and by engaging with a wide variety of community, voluntary, faith and user-led groups.

“Engagement, diversity and inclusion has been integral to the development and planning of healthcare services since the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and as an employer I think the NHS draws heavily from broad and diverse groups, however, within the wider system, there is under-representation of people from black and minority ethnic communities, particularly in senior management positions.

“My hope for the future is that the NHS works more and more closely with its partners and lay members to further develop holistic care around individuals and to effectively prevent illnesses. We have so much to gain from working with local authorities and the voluntary, community and faith sector and I look forward very much to doing just that.”

Justin Dix, Head of Corporate Services and Governing Body Secretariat

In 1958, when Justin Dix was born, the NHS was already 10 years old yet 5000 people a year were still dying from diphtheria, an infection of the nose and throat that babies and children are now routinely vaccinated against and, consequently, is now rare in the UK.

While he managed to avoid diphtheria, an equally rare medical condition led to major surgery as a seven year-old, a six week hospital stay and a lifetime of ongoing care for this and other long-term conditions. An accident-prone boy, he was also a ‘frequent flyer’ at A&E with one early memory of his father running through fields with him in his arms to reach the nearest cottage hospital, because they had no car (999 then the sole preserve of life and death emergencies, natch).

All this first-hand experience – and a prominent, influential trade unionist father sitting on the NHS National Board – paved the way to a 37 year career in the health service, including but not limited to stints as a psychiatric auxiliary nurse, mental health advocate, mental health and learning disability commissioner, head of children’s services and director-level roles in corporate management, encompassing his current dual roles of Head of Corporate Services and Governing Body Secretariat for three Surrey clinical commissioning groups.

Justin And His Mum

Justin describes his career as, “rich, rewarding, very demanding, at times frustrating, and always very steep on learning. I’ve been injured whilst working on psychiatric wards, gone through several significant re-organisations and overseen major IT projects. At 6am on the morning of the 2012 Olympics I was sat in police headquarters helping to co-ordinate Surrey’s NHS response to the games.

“Once a social worker rang me to say that one of my patients had a gun with a silver bullet in it, and did I have any suggestions as to its use? On another occasion I received an on-call message one weekend to say that a box of radioactive substance had been found in a residential street and could I advise on the health implications?”

For all its quirks and challenges the NHS remains, he says, “a remarkable institution. If, like me, you had parents who grew up in the pre-war years and didn’t have it, you will know that it doesn’t just bring practical benefits, it is also a wider force for good.

“Seventy is a good age but we should always be optimistic and hope that the best is yet to come; if it is, it will be because the NHS and the public have a shared vision for it and because we have broken down as many of the barriers to its success as we can and use it wisely.

“It belongs to all of us and - both as an NHS worker and as a patient - I know that we all have a responsibility for its stewardship.” 

Carole Melody, Head of Finance

Arguably, telling someone you work in NHS Finance has to be up there with ‘tax inspector’ and ‘parking warden’ as ‘jobs most likely to elicit eye rolls at the dinner table.’

“It’s difficult telling people what I do without first apologising,” laughs Carole Melody, Head of Finance at Surrey Downs CCG.

“The NHS belongs to the nation and everyone thinks they know how it can be fixed, but on the inside you realise just how complex the industry is; how hard everyone works in remembering that the patient is at the heart of everything we do; the technological advances and innovation around us; the huge leaps in drugs and medication and procedures; the constant asks of all areas of the service.

“All the while we have to try to remain within budget by improving efficiencies in every process and system, some of which are more successful than others. It is a major juggling act.  Every day is different and challenging but I love it – most of the time!”

Horrified at the idea of his daughter becoming a police officer, social worker or prison officer, Carole’s dad suggested ‘a sensible job in an office’ and, while working for Social Services, she was poached by the NHS.

“I was in a joint meeting and pointed out errors in their totals on a spreadsheet – they were impressed!”

“Once I started working for the NHS I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. I joined in 1989 just as the commissioner/provider split happened and it was so exciting to be part of an organisation going through such major change.  Of course, I realise now that the NHS continues to shift and change all the time, as all great and sustainable organisations must in order to stay relevant.”

The challenges in keeping the NHS financially sustainable are well-documented, with many factions of the system in deficit, but news of a government cash injection equating to an extra £20bn by 2023 has been well received by NHS management, after several years in financial recovery. It is not, however, the cure to all ills.

Says Carole, “It is such a privilege to be part of the NHS when it goes right. When things go wrong it always feels personal, as it probably does for anyone working in the service. My hope is for an enduring health service that continues to change and improve by learning from its mistakes, but also that enough funding will always be available to provide life-saving, life changing services which continue to improve people’s lives.”