When we asked readers to nominate their unsung champions of the NHS, we were overwhelmed by moving stories about staff from all parts of the health service. Last week our five finalists received their awards from the Prime Minister at Downing Street — here we tell the inspiring story of our overall winner.
Six months after Debra Radley’s two-year-old daughter Bella was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Debra, 50, hit rock-bottom. ‘Bella hated the insulin injections so much that she spent all her time running away from us screaming,’ she recalls.
‘Then Bella realised that if she didn’t eat, she didn’t get an injection, so she stopped eating. One particular day, we were strapping her down, trying to force-feed her — she was screaming, I was crying, her older sister Phoebe, who was only three, was crying — and I just sank down on my knees and banged my head against the wall. I just thought: “I can’t do this any more.” ’
Here we tell the inspiring story of our overall winner, as well as some of the UK’s most caring health worker’s including (from left): Shehan Hettiaratchy — or ‘Mr H’, Dr Gabriel Hendow, Mrs May, Professor Hindmarsh, Professor Mike Dixon and Anita Ruckledge
‘But then,’ says Debra, bursting into tears of gratitude, ‘we found Professor Hindmarsh. He mended our family and gave us back our life. He’s the calmest man I’ve ever met. He listened as all this anger and rage and grief poured from me, and then he said: “She’s a beautiful, wonderful little girl and we’re going to help her. You are going to be OK as a family.” I was so relieved, I just sobbed and sobbed.’
Professor Peter Hindmarsh — or The Prof as his small patients call him — is a consultant in paediatric endocrinology and diabetes at University College London Hospitals and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.
To both parents and children, he is, quite simply, a hero. That’s why they nominated him for our awards, and last week at a special event at Downing Street, he was announced the overall winner.
After the ceremony, Prime Minister Theresa May spoke of the ‘care, compassion and professionalism’ the Daily Mail Health Heroes have shown their patients, adding that she was ‘very proud’ to have met them and had the opportunity to thank them ‘for their incredible hard work and dedication’.
Professor Hindmarsh — or The Prof as his small patients call him — is a consultant in paediatric endocrinology and diabetes at University College London Hospitals and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children
For Professor Hindmarsh’s families, this dedication is truly life-transforming. His patients have hormonal disorders that affect them every day, often causing enormous anxiety and fear.
When it comes to treatment, Professor Hindmarsh is clearly a superb clinician — in Bella’s case, he showed the Radleys exactly how to carb count and monitor her wildly fluctuating overnight blood glucose. Nobody had done this before.
He also put her onto an insulin pump, so she doesn’t need injections. ‘Professor Hindmarsh showed us how to connect it to Bella’s teddy bears, which really normalised it,’ says Debra. ‘He spoke to Phoebe about how she felt, too, and also referred her to a play therapist.’
Another of his patients, a boy with an adrenal disorder that meant he couldn’t make cortisol, which is essential for vital bodily processes, became progressively more unwell, because his body wasn’t absorbing his cortisol tablets.
Professor Hindmarsh decided to rejig an insulin pump to help — his hydrocortisone pump is now used all over the world.
As well as his clinical expertise, Professor Hindmarsh brings true compassion, according to the families he helps. Debra says that when Bella came under Professor Hindmarsh’s care, ‘for the first time, we felt held and helped and completely supported’.
Adrienne Burton, 48, whose daughter Jessica, now 17, was born with a thyroid disorder, nominated The Prof for the Mail’s Health Hero Awards. ‘Most of his patients have moved from other hospitals, from across the country, just to see The Prof and get the gold standard of care he delivers.
‘I don’t mean gold standard of medical care — although he does deliver that — I mean the gold standard of human care, which he delivers by the bucketload.’
For Professor Hindmarsh’s families, this dedication is truly life-transforming. His patients have hormonal disorders that affect them every day, often causing enormous anxiety and fear
Jessica had her pancreas removed soon after birth and became insulin-dependent at two months old. ‘When Jessica got her first insulin pump at the age of eight, two weeks before Christmas, he gave me his home phone number so I could call on Christmas Day, even though he wasn’t on call.
‘As a family, we’ve seen literally hundreds and hundreds of doctors and nurses over the years — Professor Hindmarsh is our outstanding favourite.’
When Jane Ripley Neale, 49, from Hastings, took her son Joe, 17, to see The Prof for the first time when he was nine, they were terribly nervous.
‘It was our first time at a big prestigious hospital, with a top specialist. But within five minutes, he was wrestling with Joe: we were in stitches.’
Adrienne adds: ‘One of the lovely things he does for every child is write to them after each clinic appointment. He remembers the things that are important to them and sends positive messages, such as: “Didn’t you do really well on holiday with your blood sugars!”
When it comes to treatment, Professor Hindmarsh is clearly a superb clinician — in one case, he showed a family exactly how to carb count and monitor their child’s wildly fluctuating overnight blood glucose. Nobody had done this before
‘I wish he could see the look on our children’s faces when they read those letters from their Prof. He is the most amazing man with the most amazing brain, which enables him to be better than all other doctors we’ve come across, because he really thinks outside the box.’
The morning after he received his award, Professor Hindmarsh, 64, was still in shock. ‘I’m just doing any job,’ he insisted. Professor Hindmarsh grew up in Gateshead and went to a grammar school. He wasn’t academically brilliant, but was attracted to medicine as it combined science with ‘the human bit’ — ‘I wanted to help people’.
He only works for the NHS, and chose paediatrics rather than surgery ‘as I can’t tie knots’, he says, adding that he really chose it for that ‘human bit’.
‘Often, you are looking after three or four “patients”: the sick child, the parents, who are often very fragile, and any siblings who are also affected by a sibling being ill. It forces you to look at things holistically.
‘You’re not just helping the child, but making sure life carries on as normal for everyone.’
He points out while traditional medical thinking is firmly rooted in the infectious disease era — you complete a course of treatment and get better — chronic disease needs a different approach.
‘Having to inject your tiny child with insulin every day is appalling and unthinkable, but it’s not going to go away. It’s painful and isolating for children because it means they’re not like everyone else.’
The parents themselves often mourn the loss of normal family life. Professor Hindmarsh’s deep connection with his families is palpable. ‘You have to understand chronic diseases aren’t six pages in a textbook, they’re someone’s life,’ he says. ‘A big part of my role is empathising and understanding.’
Nurse who does her patient’s washing
What makes Anita Ruckledge MBE, dementia lead nurse at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, so remarkable is what she does beyond the call of duty, say families and her fellow workers
‘For Anita, it’s not about dying from dementia, it’s about living with it to the end with dignity that matters,’ says a colleague. ‘I left a better-paid job to work for her because she is so inspirational.’
What makes Anita Ruckledge MBE, dementia lead nurse at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, so remarkable is what she does beyond the call of duty, say families and her fellow workers.
‘If a patient has no family, Anita takes their washing home to ensure they’re dressed cleanly and appropriately,’ a colleague told us.
‘She also set up a dignity cupboard of new clothes for those who have none, funded by car boot sales and sponsored walks she does on weekends.’
Anita, who’s spent her entire working life at Pinderfields Hospital, in Wakefield, since joining the NHS at 17, also helped to design a 41-bed dementia-friendly ward at the hospital.
Among many other innovations such as a ‘pop-up’ vintage tea room to stimulate happy memories, she introduced family support suites where loved ones can stay. ‘I’d seen families sleeping on the floor and thought that was not right,’ says Anita. Hers was the first hospital to do this for end-of-life care and distressed patients with dementia.
Her phone is ‘never switched off’, so relatives can call her at any time.
On her days off, Anita, 60, travels the country giving talks to raise awareness about dementia and patient care. Nev Frost, whose father Edward was cared for by Anita in the final weeks before his death in 2015, explains why he nominated her: ‘Until you have a loved one die, or have dementia, you don’t think about this area of medicine.
‘Anita has to fight for everything, but she is so dedicated and treats each patient with such compassion.’
Anita describes dementia care as her ‘passion’. ‘It is a privilege to do the work I do,’ she says. ‘It’s not a job, it’s a vocation. I want our elderly to be treated with respect and compassion.’
It’s easy to see why families have transferred to his care from other hospitals where they’ve been made to feel that they and their child are ‘failing’ as they haven’t managed to get the disease under control.
For a professor with more than 360 academic papers behind him, Peter Hindmarsh is extraordinarily humble — the word ‘modest’ is frequently used by the families.
He points out that while he might see a patient for a total of four to six hours over a year, they’ve lived with their condition for almost 9,000 hours. ‘And after four hours, I’m saying I know more than you? Come on! I learn from my patients every day.’
He recalls a professor who taught him saying: ‘The most important thing is to shut up and listen because the patient is telling you the answer.’ The hydrocortisone pump he developed was a direct result of that approach. ‘There aren’t many times in medicine when you do something and it works perfectly,’ he chuckles.
‘Part of the job is to think outside the box — and the key to that is to listen to patients and believe them when they tell me something, as they are the expert on them.
‘On the face of it, it looked as though this patient wasn’t taking his medication correctly, but he said he was and I believed him.’
Professor Hindmarsh is married to Rosemary, a psychiatrist, and they have three daughters. He remembers ‘always managing somehow to do the school run between us, and interminable parents’ evenings where we were told off and made to feel completely useless as parents’.
His patients now keep him grounded. ‘The thing about paediatrics is kids don’t realise you’re important,’ he laughs. Fortunately for them, he has no plans to retire: ‘I’ll carry on until I’m 70.’
His own health heroes are his patients and their families. ‘I am constantly amazed at what parents do and filled with admiration for what they achieve.
I wish all my families could have been at No. 10 with me because, really, I have accepted this award for them.
Three surgeons who’ve gone the extra mile
A quietly charming and gentle man, Dr Gabriel Hendow has been described as the ‘perfect’ GP. ‘He is amazing to staff and patients —he’s literally a hero in the community,’ one said
‘Perfect’ GP LOVED BY PATIENTS AND STAFF
A quietly charming and gentle man, Dr Gabriel Hendow has been described as the ‘perfect’ GP. ‘He is amazing to staff and patients —he’s literally a hero in the community,’ one said.
The 72-year-old is the sole doctor for the 2,600 patients at his general practice in a deprived area of East Yorkshire, where he has worked for 25 years.
It’s an innovative practice where you might be ‘prescribed’ free cooking and exercise classes, rather than simply more pills, and where all teenagers are offered an annual top-to-toe check-up at a special clinic.
A psychiatric nurse offers talking therapies twice a week — Dr Hendow does not believe in just handing out repeat prescriptions for antidepressants.
The practice also provides the best of the old-school: you can get an appointment on the day if you need one, and Dr Hendow makes home visits, ‘even if there’s no obvious reason, but he’s just worried about someone’, according to one patient.
Dr Hendow trained as a surgeon in Iraq, but he and his family fled to the UK in the Seventies.
Despite working as a surgeon here, at 45 he decided to retrain as a GP, against the advice of senior colleagues.
‘What I really enjoyed was sitting on the end of a patient’s bed talking to them,’ he says.
Dr Hendow, whose practice was rated overall outstanding by the healthcare regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), says he strives to be not a general practitioner, but a family doctor. The good news for patients is that he has no immediate plans to retire: ‘I love my work — why would I give up?’
Professor Mike Dixon, OBE, is regarded as one of the UK’s leading breast surgeons, with patients referred to him from across the UK and Europe
Fundraising surgeon with human touch
Professor Mike Dixon, OBE, is regarded as one of the UK’s leading breast surgeons, with patients referred to him from across the UK and Europe.
A consultant at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, Professor Dixon, 63, has written hundreds of academic papers and edited or authored 27 books.
But as well as setting the bar with his clinical skills and cutting-edge research, Professor Dixon is an ‘amazing person; everyone loves him — both staff and patients’, says a breast cancer survivor who nominated him.
‘He makes you feel so good when you’re down and gives wonderful hugs. You feel he cares about you as an individual.’
She was referred to Professor Dixon after undergoing botched surgery elsewhere, and says: ‘He made everything right again — he saved my life.’
Professor Dixon is also an indefatigable fundraiser, raising many thousands of pounds for charity and research by running marathons and doing long-distance cycles with his team, Mike’s Marvels, made up of former patients, their relatives and friends.
‘He’s even used his own money to pay for equipment the hospital couldn’t afford,’ we were told.
Professor Dixon says to his patients that although he’s busy, he is ‘always available’.
He takes a warm and personal interest in them, and admits that when a patient dies, their death ‘haunts’ him — he’s often in a worse state at the funeral than the family.
‘But it’s important you feel that grief, as it is what makes you try so hard to stop it happening again,’ he says.
Before becoming a medical student, Professor Dixon worked as a hospital porter and spent two summers as a nursing auxiliary in order to gain first-hand experience of how a hospital works. The son of a steelworker, he does no private work. ‘There are greater things in life than money,’ he’s said.
His patients are emphatic: ‘We’re so lucky to have him.’
Shehan Hettiaratchy — or ‘Mr H’ as his patients and colleagues affectionately call him — is known as ‘the magician’ because of his plastic surgery skills — his specialism is limb reconstruction and he’s also done breakthrough research on limb transplantation
THE ‘MAGICIAN’ WHO REBUILDS LIVES
Shehan Hettiaratchy — or ‘Mr H’ as his patients and colleagues affectionately call him — is known as ‘the magician’ because of his plastic surgery skills — his specialism is limb reconstruction and he’s also done breakthrough research on limb transplantation.
But for Steve Lockwood, who was badly injured in the Westminster Bridge attack in March, it’s not just his surgical excellence, but the love, passion and pride Mr Hettiaratchy takes in ‘making his patients whole in body and mind’ that really stand out, which is why he decided to nominate him.
‘Mr H would say he’s just doing his job, but he did far more. Not only did he save my life, he rebuilt it.
‘He continues to look after both me and my wife Cara to this day,’ says Steve. ‘Mr H checks on us regularly and will pop in to my appointments with other specialists to see how we’re doing.
‘He also organised counselling for Cara, who’s been badly affected by what she saw.’
The Lockwoods describe a sense of ‘being loved’ by Mr Hettiaratchy and his team.
‘The goal is not just fixing an arm and a leg, it’s getting people functioning normally as soon as possible,’ explains Mr Hettiaratchy. It can often be a lifelong relationship.
‘The best thing of all is when they stop coming to see me in outpatients because they don’t need me any more,’ he adds. ‘It’s bittersweet, as you’ve formed such a strong bond. But it means I’ve done my job right.’
The son of psychiatrists, Mr Hettiaratchy was brought up with a strong sense of public service: he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps after qualifying, completing two tours of Afghanistan.
He’s also carried out charity work around the world, including in Kosovo, Chechnya and in Haiti a week after the 2010 earthquake, and is closely involved in veterans’ care.
A ‘hero’ in many senses of the word.