A Cheltenham man who suffered four cardiac arrests and stopped breathing 22 times on the operating table says his experiences of using local healthcare spurred him on to help improve NHS services in Gloucestershire.
Former IT project manager John is a volunteer with the county’s independent health and care champion Healthwatch Gloucestershire. He joined to help improve local health and care services after suffering from a series of health conditions including diabetes, ME and heart disease.
John [pictured left] regularly attends community events and helps to man stands around Gloucestershire to gather feedback from the public on local health and care services.
This feedback is then collated by Healthwatch Gloucestershire and the common themes are presented to the decision-making organisations in the county, who plan and pay for health and care services.
Father of three John says his own personal experiences of local health services has been mixed but he believes feedback is important to help improve services. He said: “I suffered a heart attack in 1998 that damaged my heart muscle, this was followed by an episode of bradycardia that left me with minor brain damage – mainly affecting my memory.
“Shortly after this I had an operation to remove a grossly enlarged thyroid gland and during this I suffered four cardiac arrests and stopped breathing 22 times! This led to further minor brain damage, the effect of which is that I lost most of my mid-term memory and my short-term memory is still patchy.
“I was diagnosed with ME after five years of tests, and a few years later I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, which is now controlled well by multiple daily insulin injections. I had a second heart attack in 2012, luckily it was treated promptly and insertion of a couple of stents in my cardiac arteries sorted me out.
“My GP (now retired) used to call me his miracle patient as most other patients who had a similar history are dead! I now have to lead a carefully controlled pace of life to ensure that I don’t run out of energy too soon. My mobility is drastically limited in that I can get around the house ok, but have to use a powered wheelchair outside.”
John, 66, has been a regular user of local GP surgeries and hospitals due to his health conditions. He continued: “The regular turnover of GPs at my local practice means that I have no real continuity of care – having to explain anything that is not on the computer records, time and time again, is tedious and wastes valuable consultation time.
“That said, they did save my life when I had the episode of bradycardia. My medication is managed well and they carry out regular blood tests to ensure that I am functioning as well as I can. I also have regular health checks for my diabetes and heart condition. My diabetes is also monitored by regular consultations with a consultant at Cheltenham General Hospital.
“For me personally, I would like to see more continuity of GP care enabling a real two-way relationship to be established with a named doctor. Provision of more support for ME/CFS in Gloucestershire, rather than relying on the Bristol-based team and better care for dementia sufferers.”
John is now urging others to consider volunteering for Healthwatch Gloucestershire: “Local people can help shape health and care services in Gloucestershire by letting Healthwatch know what their concerns are, so that they can be collated and fed back to the local NHS management.
“I enjoy volunteering Healthwatch Gloucestershire [pictured right] as it gets me out and about meeting people who share my belief that we should all contribute to building a better society.”
Kay Bunyan, Volunteer Officer at Healthwatch Gloucestershire said: “Volunteers like John are at the centre of everything we do, from talking to people about their experiences of local health and care services, to sitting on the local steering group.
“Whatever your background, we are keen to hear from you if you think you could fill one of these roles. People can make a real difference to their communities and help to shape their local health and care services.”
All volunteers with Healthwatch Gloucestershire go through a full training and personal development programme. They are given a comprehensive volunteer handbook and welcome pack, as well as having access to an online volunteer portal with up to date policies and procedures. Out of pocket expenses are also reimbursed.