According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an expert is ‘a person who is very knowledgeable or skilful in a particular field.’ However, the American activist, Marian Wright Edelman, once said ‘Parents have become so convinced that educators know what is best for their children that they forget that they themselves are really the experts’.
Edelman may well have had a good point, as an analogy can be found when considering health care and patients. After all, who truly knows what it is like to live with a long term medical condition: the doctor, nurse or therapist with all their qualifications, or the patient, perhaps with nothing in the way of qualifications but with years of first-hand experience of the subject?
Speaking in an interview earlier this month, the chairwoman for the Royal College of General Practitioners, Dr Clare Gerada, emphasised that we are at time when ‘GP workload is exploding and its complexity is increasing’ (GP Magazine, 17 August 2011). At the same time, the number of whole-time equivalent GPs working in the NHS is falling. Inevitably, this means that the time GPs have for individual patients is under increasing pressure, with the end result that the nicety of long explanatory discussions about a patient’s long term condition is one of the first corners to be cut. Couple this with the fact that people are living longer (life expectancy is now 81.4 years for women and 77.5 years for men) and it becomes obvious that there is a problem.
Those are two of the reasons why NHS North Lincolnshire and the North Lincolnshire Council are trying to establish an Expert Patient Programme. As with all communities, North Lincolnshire has its share of patients with long-term (chronic) medical problems such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and arthritis. Such patients need assistance in learning about their conditions and how to live with them. The Expert Patient is an invaluable resource who can teach other patients, and assist in improving their confidence and skill in managing and living with their long-term conditions. In turn, the patient becomes less of a ‘patient’ and more of a ‘normal person who lives with a chronic condition’. Less time is spent in hospital or seeing GPs and life becomes more enjoyable, valuable and interesting.
The Prime Minister’s vision of the Big Society has been much derided of late. However, the Expert Patient Programme is one example of where the concept can truly work. That said, to be successful, volunteers with long-term medical conditions are most certainly needed. Such volunteers will need to complete a four day tutor-training course, after which they need to be prepared to deliver community-based self-management courses. All volunteers will undergo assessment, and the successful completion of two assessments will qualify those people for a Level 3 accreditation from the Open College Network.
If you are living with a long-term medical condition, then you are the expert we are looking for. So why not share that expertise with fellow patients and make their lives more manageable? If you are interested, call Helen Tindall on 01724 298422, or Sally Eaton on 01724 298404.
The last word must surely go to Lord Salisbury who, in a letter to Lord Lytton in 1877, wrote: ‘No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you never should trust experts. If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require to have their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.’
Expert Patients – you have that supply of common sense!
(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday 25th August 2011)