An altruistic kidney donor believes his beloved NHS is being taken in a dangerous direction as a new reorganisation seeks £22bn cutbacks. Chris Burn reports.
He loves the NHS so much he gave a kidney to a stranger in gratitude to the health service.
But now one Yorkshire business expert and healthcare campaigner fears for its future, as trusts across the country prepare to embark on a massive reorganisation of the health and social care system designed to plug a £22bn funding gap.
Sheffield grandfather John Carlisle, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by Sheffield Hallam University in 2004 in recognition of his business improvement work for corporate giants like Shell, De Beers and Siemens, says he believes the necessary savings can be achieved - but through working with frontline doctors and nurses rather than imposing more unrealistic targets for NHS staff to hit.
After donating a kidney to a stranger in May 2013, John wrote to NHS England last year to express his disgust at the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) being developed across the country to hit the savings targets.
“It opens the door to privatisation and health insurance and will be a bloody mess,” he says. “I am an altruistic kidney donor who donated my kidney to the people’s NHS as an act of gratitude for what it has done for the nation. This is not what I made my sacrifice for.”
The 74-year-old is originally from Zambia and worked in the copper mines, moving to England in 1970 before settling in Sheffield six years later and eventually going on to establish a successful business consultancy called JCP.
He says the idea of donating a kidney came about after two acquaintances died at a young age from kidney failure.
“I thought what a waste - two people like that, really good people, who have died too young. When I got to 70 I thought I owe a debt of gratitude to this country. Obviously I am one of those grateful immigrants, having been here for about 40 years. I am a great admirer of the NHS and thought perhaps I could pay the debt by giving a kidney.
“I was already working as an activist against the privatisation of the NHS and during the process, I gained tremendous insight. You go through every conceivable test. It was the finest healthcare I ever got!
“They found someone who was a match. I went through the process against the wishes of my family. But you give someone the chance of at least 15 years of a normal life.”
John says he did not know who received the kidney because the process keeps them anonymous but he was given a letter from the grateful recipient, a woman from Leicester.
He puts part of his decision to give a kidney down to his upbringing in Zambia and the values instilled in him by his parents.
“We were an old-fashioned Catholic family. There are three things that really matter in the way you conduct your life. One is church, two is family and three is other people, particularly the community.
“My parents lived that all their lives. In their 70s, they were still bringing up two grandchildren on their farm and sending them to school. They had done service all their lives.
“It was kind of in my blood. When we turned 16, one of the first things we did was join the blood transfusion service. I suppose I was an accident waiting to happen in a way with that background!
“The thing that was in my favour was that the family have very strong constitutions. I knew I had got a good constitution.”
John says the experience of giving a kidney gave him a deep appreciation of the work of the frontline staff in the NHS.
“The doctors, the consultants and the nursing sisters that I met on that journey were phenomenal. The best in class anywhere in the world. They were such nice people and so dedicated to the NHS. The whole process was such a reassuring, professional process.”
Following the process and as Sheffield’s first altruistic kidney donor, John became the face of a Gift of Life campaign to recruit thousands of new organ donors in South Yorkshire.
But within a year, John was part of efforts to fight against potential privatisation of elements of the health service, taking part in a mass protest in Sheffield in 2014. He now has even bigger fears for the future of the NHS that he loves.
Across the country, 44 different STPs are being drawn up to help the NHS plug a predicted £22bn financial black hole over the next four years, with around £2bn of savings needing to be found in Yorkshire alone.
Carlisle says while the savings target can be achieved, he does not believe STPs are the way to do it.
“The STPs themselves are a tremendous distraction, another reorganisation, a mistake at a time when the NHS is short of money but not because of the actual funding. There is tremendous waste because of the management.
“A particular issue is that management and the target situation is very short-sighted.”
He says research suggests the national target of 95 per cent of people visiting A&E within four hours shows a clear trend that more patients are admitted for care as the deadline approaches - not necessarily because it is right for their medical needs, but because staff don’t want to miss the target.
He believes the STPs have made the mistake of focusing on achieving financial savings rather than talking to doctors and nurses about how patient care can be more effective and efficient.
“Doctors and nurses know what is going on, they know what should happen but they keep coming across targets that stop them doing what is in the best interests of patients.
“I know of one cancer ward where to save money nurses were told they would give out the meals to patients at lunchtimes. You have got nurses who are authorities in cancer care not being allowed to give care because of a management decision.”
John says the STP process is just the latest stage of attempted reorganisations of the NHS and believes that like previous attempts under the Labour and coalition Governments, it is unlikely to be a success in its current form.
“I had already been very concerned with just the way they were messing around with the NHS. It started with Labour and the target setting, all those things a really good private organisation would never ever do.
“It is an act of utter irresponsibility what they are doing with the NHS. It is the third largest national organisation in the world and the people love it.
“They have meddled it to the point now where people can’t give the good service they know the patients need because of targets and over-regulation.
“If you are a nurse or a doctor, you are being evaluated not on what is happening to the patient but whether you are obeying the rules.”