'You're not from round here, are you doctor?'
Those words were frequently heard during my early days in practice in North Lincolnshire. Considering that I am a Kentish Man, I happily accept that the enquiry was pertinent and showed a considerable degree of perspicacity on the part of my Lincolnshire patients (unless it was my accent that gave the game away?). Some people would put the question down to nothing more than an innate sense of curiosity. However, for me, it was an indication that I was being welcomed into my new community, and that my interlocutors were simply showing that they cared. After all, the Oxford English Dictionary does define the verb 'to care' as 'to feel concern, interest, affection or liking'.
That the inhabitants of North Lincolnshire are caring people came home to me in another way one dark winter's evening whilst I was visiting a patient in a rougher part of town. On my way to the house, I was vaguely aware of some young men lurking in the shadows and felt a little uneasy about their possible intent. Upon departing the house, I was suddenly joined by another, rather scruffy, young man who was also a patient of mine. Sensing that I might indeed be in some degree of danger, he said 'looks like you've got a problem sir; stay with me and you'll be alright'. With that he safely escorted me the fifty or so yards back to my car. That young man was caring for me.
Such thoughts led me to think about the Prime Minister's concept of the 'Big Society', and how that fits in with the idea of caring. For a 'Big Society' to work, local people must care about the people and communities where they live. If they do not care, then the Big Society cannot work.
Of course, we already have a familiar group of carers within our society. They are the armies of family members and paid carers who look after people, young and old, who through frailty or disability are unable to look after themselves. However, I would like to suggest that we are actually all carers; each and every one of us, whether we realise it or not. For example, when was the last time you put an elderly neighbour's dustbins out, assisted with someone's shopping, offered up your seat, held a door open to let another pass, gave someone a lift in your car, or simply smiled at a stranger in the street? I am sure that you can think of many other examples. Each of these individual acts shows that we care.
Now that winter is approaching, many people will have difficulty with basic daily chores. Who, therefore, will you seek to help? By performing at least one act of caring every day we can together make 'care' the foundation of the Big Society in England; that way everyone wins.
After all, as my story shows, we all sometimes need care.
(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Wednesday 10th September 2010)