• Interview with Iqbal Singh

    A Lifetime dedicated to improving equality and representation in Healthcare

    Ritwika Roy


    It's time to walk hand in hand,

    It's time for a world of equality,

    It matters not, what you are, or whom you claim to be,

    You're you, and that's good enough for me…

    From Equality by Crimson Love


    I met up with Professor Iqbal Singh CBE, a pioneer in the field of medicine as the world opens up and readjusts to the challenges of a huge backlog left over by COVID19 pandemic years and the double whammy of the war in Ukraine. He is a mild-mannered, philosophical man who has dedicated a lifetime to quality improvement in healthcare.


    Iqbal, was born in Amritsar and raised in the tranquil hills of Simla, India. During his training in Medicine in the modern city of Chandigarh, Punjab which hosts the premier institute of postgraduate medicine in India, much of his grounding was on science, and the value of high quality education. He remembers the fascination for the publicly funded UK national health service, which brought him to England in 1974. He began working in Blackburn in 1983 after roles in Sheffield, Birmingham and Kent.


    Reflecting on what drives him in his work, Iqbal is convinced that he draws his inspiration from his parents who instilled in him the belief that to be able to serve his patients, in their hour of need, was a matter of luck and privilege. This sense brought a sense of deep humility to his gentle nature and tireless energy.


    Iqbal was moved by the disparities he saw affecting people in their health and public life both in India and in the UK. He found himself drawn to the cause for equality and diversity in the representation in the UK National Health Service (NHS). He took on the mantle of advocating for the rights and representation of minority ethnic doctors via the General Medical Council’s (GMC) equality and diversity committee. He founded and chaired Diversity Partners, and currently chairs the GMC's Black and minority ethnic forum which is a voice and influence on equality issues. He also serves on the Health Honours Committee and Cabinet Office Honours Diversity and Inclusion Committee helping improve wider recognition.


    Iqbal attributes his sense of humility and groundedness to his love for the warm and diverse Indian culture. He has a passion for Amritsari street food and the magical world of Bollywood movies, as he gleamingly mentions his age-old favourite the silver screen chemistry between Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman.


    Iqbal has spearheaded healthcare regulation in the UK for over four decades. He helped to lay the foundation of a novel system of inspection and commissioning for NHS organisations. He was keen that any form of inspection was driven not by punitive measures but a framework of promoting safety and fostering a supportive environment for all.


    Competition and a burning ambition to do the best he can for his patients has always defined Iqbal’s immense energy and enthusiasm. Iqbal confesses that he did indeed want to be a professional sportsman and therein lies his spirit of fairness and to succeed. He has been playing cricket in India and in the UK, and is a proud supporter of the Lancashire Cricket Club.


    In UK healthcare, he has been transforming how health and social care professionals are educated and regulated in the care of patients. He has helped to embed ‘a culture of compassion and dignity’ . He was one of the first to identify the needs of an ageing population. As a physician dedicated to the care of older people he is proud of his work as the founder chair of the Centre for Excellence and Safety for Older People (CESOP) and the European Group on Safety for Older People.


    Professor Singh demonstrates many of the classical characteristics of a true leader, who is humble, who feels lucky to be able to serve and transform the lives of his peers and patients. He imagines a much bigger future for the profession and health service, by leading the change in equality of access for all, to promote diversity in leadership, to engage and listen to many who are under-represented. In his interview, Iqbal does not reveal pride but humility when reminded of his achievements.


    As we look up to him as an inspirational leader, in many ways, he is just like you and me–taking time out before bedtime to solve the famous Wordle puzzle daily! Nonetheless, Iqbal is respected by his peers and attributes his success to friends, family, colleagues. He was recognised for his contribution to excellence in the care of the elderly by Queen’s honours in 2022. He dedicated his recognition to his patients, friends, allies and his alumni network.


    He believes a better future for healthcare can be achieved by initiating policy changes needed for better investment in health promotion, equitable resourcing and being open and honest about the challenges of healthcare provision with his professional colleagues and the public. He is keen to take a more strategic role in the profession and has many great ideas and experience that he is keen to share. His humility, dedication and deep conviction in doing good for his fellow man is so inspiring to me as a young scientist and researcher. He reminds me of the words by John McRae;


    Within his gates I saw, through all those years,

    One at his humble toil with cheery face…


    Professor Iqbal Singh CBE


    Interviewed by Ritwika Roy

  • Personal Perspectives

    Ritwika Roy

    Remembering the Past, Maximising the Present, to Secure a Bright Future---

    An Interview with Satheesh Matthew


    Seated comfortably at his homework desk, exuding an aura of calm and dignity, my guest for the day, Satheesh Matthew patiently listened to me with eagerness and answered my questions. Being a renowned doctor in the UK, Satheesh giggled and spoke


    “Hey, you know the funny thing, I was never supposed to become a doctor!”


    Turns out, like every other Indian kid in those days, he had planned to become an engineer as he had a strong love for machines, mechanics, and DIY projects. He still displays glimpses of it in his free time by working with machines and mechanics and fixing his car at home now! However, as we ventured further in the conversation, Satheesh mentioned he had no regrets whatsoever about being a doctor and if given half – a-chance, he would have it no other way.


    Utilising his early experiences when he first arrived in the UK, Satheesh has been strongly advocating and fighting for the rights of international medical students graduates and BME doctors and wants to bring about a difference in the lives of all in the global healthcare system.


    “Trying to change the system, without having any experience, is going to get you nowhere! Instead  keep your head down, do your work, gain standing and then advocate for systemic changes wherever you go!” is his advice to the young generation who want quick wins and cannot seem to take ‘No’ for an answer.


    Having moved to the UK at an early age, albeit his elder brother was already settled here, Satheesh faced several moments, and instances of differential treatment attributable to his race and country of origin. With a heavy heart he narrated one such incident, wherein the clinical practice, a person of the majority white ethnicity, would experience (undue) advantage in career progression or
    opportunities, while Satheesh despite being more experienced and talented felt he was left behind due to his ethnicity or colour. Several incidents like this led him to become a crusader for fighting racism and voicing the rights of all students doctors and immigrants.


    Throughout his career he fought relentlessly by joining hands with multiple bodies, organisations, committees, and even led matters in the legal courts to let the ‘truth prevail’ and challenge the inequalities in the system, thus ensuring that immigrants were treated at par with others. Sadly, as he mentions, with an air of dismay, the fight is still on, but his ‘never-give-up attitude’ steers him to
    take charge and keep at the fight. Pausing in a reflective moment, he mentions that he is so overtly passionate about bringing an end
    to ‘differential treatment’, that in his free time now as a retired doctor he reads newsletters, books, and research papers on public law to better understand the system. His passion is to make people aware of their rights as immigrants and to defeat the shackles of institutional racism!


    I could sense the commitment and dedication that Satheesh had inside him, while he spoke. To me, he came across as well-informed, well-read, and ready to strive hard to earn what he wants, kind of a person, and voila! That is exactly what his friends describe him as too!


    “A dependable, trustworthy, hardworking, committed and intelligent guy” is what my friends call me, chuckled Satheesh and then sneakily added “or I hope they do!”


    This tempted me to ask him about his early childhood days and his Indian roots, to which he grew reminiscent and answered with an air of nostalgia. Being a Malayali, he misses his South Indian roots and makes it a point to visit his Motherland-India, once annually. This time he goes down the memory lane of his early yesteryears and catches up with his childhood friends whom he rightfully
    claims are the ones to keep for life! He misses the warmth and laughter of his childhood friends in the UK and wants to meet them often, hence often stays connected with them and speaks to them in his native mother tongue: MalayaliMalayalam. While conversing with him, I wondered what made him such a strong, level- headed individual while at the same time, devoid of having any airs, and connected strongly to his roots. Lost in wonderment as I was, it was as though he read my mind and answered---


    “I lost my father at an incredibly early age when I was a young boy. That incident hardened me and made me understand the realities of life. I learned life the hard way and started working my way up to make my mark wherever I go, without having to depend on anyone.”


    Last but not the least, he mentions two things that he has learned as life lessons and wishes to impart to this generation who are getting out into the real world and that is, the value of arduous work and time. He observed these two from various angles and a different lens, while he was a young boy in India and when he was an accomplished doctor in the UK fighting for the rights of different individuals therepeople who do not have a voice of their own there. He ends with a composed note saying,


    “There is no replacement for arduous work and valuing ones’ time”

  • Interview with Satheesh Matthew

    Ritwika Roy

    All Posts