Advanced Care Research Centre

Symposium Reflections - Peter Smith

First of two reflections on the ACRC Symposium from a PPI perspective comes from Peter Smith.

Being able to influence researchers as a public and patient representative is an honour. I guess being 70 years old and having both long term and current health issues qualifies me to share my experiences for the good of all. Giving the lay address at the Spring Symposium provided the opportunity to present those challenges growing old gives, especially at a time of crisis in our healthcare services.

It was with real pride I was offered the privilege to present, for a second year running, the Lay Address at the ACRC Spring Symposium. The audience would be PhD students, researchers, leading academics and decision makers, so what could I bring to the table that would make ACRC representatives take note? My 10-minute session was to be entitled “The Challenges of Growing Old – My Story” as part of setting the scene for the section on Ageing in a Time of Crisis. Initially I pondered the request but realised I was now qualified in ‘ageing’ having reached the age of 70 in the last few months. I’d wondered how I’d achieved that milestone as in my mind I was still thinking like a 25-year-old. The realisation that retirement from a 40+ year career in adult social care five years earlier had somehow happened, and I transitioned into Public & Patient Involvement (PPI) work through opportunities I couldn’t resist maintaining an ongoing interest in health and social care issues.

Also, personal health issues had impacted my life in the last five years, including a rotator cuff shoulder injury, cataracts and prostate cancer alongside the type 2 diabetes I’d been living with for the last 30 years. Treatments had come and gone, and new concerns were beginning to take hold. I now have constant pain in my left foot from planter fasciitis and the discomfort of an inguinal hernia – why are these health issues happening to me? Perhaps I do have things to say about growing old and not being as healthy as I would want to be!

But what about the crisis in healthcare, is this really impacting on my life? What crisis I asked; then realised I’d lived through the worst pandemic in our lifetime, was hearing through colleagues and the press about workforce shortages, funding constraints and increasing demand for services impacted by systemic inefficiencies across the country. Yes, there has been, and currently is, a crisis in healthcare. We know there are shortages of GP’s and nursing staff with recruitment and retention problems, exacerbated by the impact of Brexit with overseas recruitment now more complicated and uncertain. The underfunding of the NHS and local authority social care is based on budget constraints and the growing ageing population. There are long waits for what should be routine operations and treatment. Our hospitals are also ageing, they’re often outdated and require significant investment. Of course, we should not forget the inequalities faced by people from disadvantaged backgrounds, they have some of the worse health outcomes with less access to care and health services; whilst Public Health focuses on the growing demands of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, mental health issues, smoking and alcohol and drug use. So yes, clearly there is a crisis in healthcare!

In the last five years I have worked alongside students at the start of their careers in social care and nursing. I have undertaken PPI work at a number of universities around the country and found myself interested in supporting research in healthcare by working alongside other PPI representatives, professors, research associates, teaching staff and students both online and in person. I now have experience of being part of stakeholder and steering groups, public reference groups and speaking at public events including the Spring Symposium.

All this work supports the work of researchers as PPI involvement brings peoples personal experiences to the table and helps put real life situations into context. Having attended two Symposiums now I have learnt a lot from those experiences. Not just in developing my presentation skills but also listening to the varied research proposals helped expose me to a wide array of topics. The Q&A sessions broadened both my understanding of university-based research and helped foster a sense of community amongst the participants. I found it inspiring to see the passion and dedication of everyone at the Symposium as we all focused on finding ways of improving healthcare services whatever crises arise in future.