• 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

  • Saraswati Hosdurga

    Paediatrician, Dancer, Musician and Filmmaker

    Ritwika Roy

    On a Wednesday evening, as I sat down to interview my guest for the day, I wondered what she would be like? Would she come across as cold and strict? Or would it be a professional chat keeping humour and emotions completely off-limits? Or maybe it would just be a monologue where I listen passively making notes, unable to get a personal angle of their story? It turned out that my guest for the day was a complete paradox of what I was expecting.

    If you could personify the word “gentle” and “affectionate” that would be Dr. Saraswati Hosdurga—my guest for the day. Her self-effacing, mild mannered persona hides her relentless contribution to the health of children and young people. Her natural attributes for nurturing and caring is not only showered on her young patients, but also extends wholly to the wellbeing of her co-professionals.

    “The reason I became a doctor is because of my early childhood experiences,” she said with an air of nostalgia looming over her.

    Going back to when I was a kid, we were four sisters and a brother, and my father wanted to make sure that I would become we all became diligent professionals.

    Why medicine? I saw that my village back in India was devoid of healthcare facilities in those days, and this inspired me to take this path for my future.”

    “My school bus would take the route of the Hubli Medical College, and as a kid, I would stare out in wonderment, frequently lost in daydreaming of life as a healer. Often I would be wishing, ‘Oh, how wondrous would it be, if I could study here and become a doctor’, she gleamed. This revealed to me how passionate she was from an early age to take up this noble profession and her dedication to service.

    From her teenage days, she reminisces of how tough life was in villages, when she would visit her father's ancestral home. Getting around was a challenge as there were no buses and no toilets. But she didn’t let this deter her and instead enjoyed the idyllic, rustic upbringing. She has never lost that deep connection with nature, the rural way of life, the fond memories of frolicking in the village stream, watching the grazing cattle and the warm, lazy evenings after sunset.

    “I got into engineering, but it didn’t click, my personality did not suit that of an engineer”. “I knew that my heart was in medicine and that’s where I wanted to be”, she narrates excitedly as she spoke of how she first got into engineering and then tried getting into teaching and ultimately went for medicine—her ultimate haven.

    The compassion and reassurance from medical professionals, especially pediatricians is extremely important for concerned parents, and Dr. Hosdurga takes pride in providing that to her patients as they look up to her.

    This summer Sarsawati is taking up a vital CCG role as a strategic lead for the health and welfare of children in care. She has been concerned about the steep rise in the number of children affected by the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic and children affected by conflict. In her new role, she will be able to influence policies and make a positive difference to many children at risk, through social services.

    Saraswati is an educational supervisor and a mentor for young professionals where she is responsible for teaching and training. Outside her work, she cherishes some alone time in self-reflection, mindfulness, especially with a frenzied house she now shares with a golden retriever pup.

    “I love gardening, and I can stay amidst the plants and trees all day long, with my dog, it’s so calming. I get creative with my cooking! I like exploring South Indian dishes, and I mix different ingredients to get something novel—and find it super exciting”, she narrates with a lot of excitement.

    Speaking of her homeland India, she misses the heat and dust, the mouthwatering food chaats, and the diversity of its colourful heritage. She ardently misses the love and care of her wider family who are in India.

    India holds a very special place in her heart, reflecting on her early childhood experiences; her son too has a strong connection to the country.

    “My son plays chess here in the UK at a national level. A skill he learnt from an early age while on holiday trips to India!” she gleefully exclaims, showing how close a bond she has with her family in India.

    An ‘out-of-the-box thinker’ is how her childhood friends would describe her. She describes her relationships with her friends as one of mutual respect. And I am not surprised! Her pleasant personality and caring nature would make her a good friend, I am sure!

    Another very interesting point she brought up is that, “A lot of our childhood experiences shape us for who we are today, and I feel that has helped me become a better and mindful person that I am today”. She spent most of her childhood out in fields, amidst bougainvillea plants and trees, which surely explains her love for gardening now!

    She found it hard to blindly follow 'tradition' and unknowingly was making moves naturally towards social equality. 

    'I remember an incident at the village where during Dashara I touched the feet of an elder, which is a ritual after giving Bilva leaves. Immediately that person was taken aback, reacted strangely and moved away from me.'

    Village elders who witnessed this event, scolded her for touching his feet, she clearly had no idea what she had done wrong. Later she learned that they belong to a lower caste. She couldn’t understand this unfair social division and this incident stayed with her. She is hopeful that social divisions appear to be changing in villages. 

    Speaking of archaic village customs, when she was 8 years old, she remembers being forced to give her clothes to a lady she had accidentally come in contact with during her play. This lady was having her periods, and therefore was considered unclean. Saraswati was having none of that, and ran away in protest, only to be admonished by her mother for disobeying traditional customs. 

    She continued to be a trail blazer in her college days. She was the sports captain while in school and later played at the national women’s hockey championship for her state team, traveling to distant Punjab, unknown to her parents. 

    She was an ardent member of the NCC (National Cadet Corps) being good at rifle shooting and running. She remembers that her height was a reason for her not given a chance to participate in the Republic Day parade in Delhi, the national capital. 

    'I failed the selection due to my height, as I am short! Yes, I was very disappointed and not able to understand why such discrimination still exists in the army.'

    She reflects how early life experiences shape us to be what we are and how we think and act! Her favourite life quote is

    "an optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity, while a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity."


    “I came to Bristol only for six months with my husband, but when I started exploring the place, I couldn’t take my eyes off the scenic beauty of the city and the neighbouring countryside. Look how those six months have turned into—23 years, we didn’t move out of Bristol! This is the love of nature!”

    She has integrated her affectionate and care for nature and the people around her, with work. Her early life experiences, and rural upbringing has helped her to appreciate and value the simple joys of living. Dr. Hosdurga strives to make a difference in the lives of children and professionals working for sustainability, health and wellness as Chair of the BAPIO Wellness Forum. She has organised regular sessions of yoga, dance fitness and nutrition with her forum team.

    She is also a filmmaker, working to improve awareness of neurodiversity through her affinity for the powerful mediums of dance, music and film. Her directorial debut film ‘Varnapatala’ released in the UK this summer.

     

  • A Quest for the Realisation of Dreams

    • In conversation with Sararswati Hosdurga

  • 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

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