Take 5 with Dr Irem Patel

Hear about how Irem, one of King’s Health Partners’ new Joint Directors of Clinical Strategy, will lead on population health improvement by reducing health inequalities and improving outcomes.

Tell us about yourself

Irem patel My clinical background is in respiratory medicine and I have been an integrated chest physician since 2009; I took up my post at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in 2013. It was through training and research with people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) that I first became interested in the idea of organising healthcare differently. I began to think about bringing specialist care closer to the patient and developing multidisciplinary teams skilled in supporting the whole person in order to make a real difference to patients, as well as creating a hugely rewarding new way to work. In 2013 I became the first integrated respiratory consultant in the UK, and have since worked with others to develop the King’s Health Partners seven-day integrated respiratory service, which aims to improve the lung health outcomes and experience of people in Lambeth and Southwark. The principle of bringing a value approach to population health is at the heart of this.

My other roles include co-leading the Respiratory Department and Public Health Committee at King’s College Hospital, as well as being the Smokefree lead for the Trust. At a regional level I chair the South East London Respiratory Right Care Network and am on the London Respiratory Programme Board. Having been Associate Editor of Primary Care Respiratory Medicine for some years I became a Trustee of the Primary Care Respiratory Society this year, a new role which has given me an insight into the challenges of running and working in a third sector organisation.

On a personal note I was born in Turkey and came to the UK as an immigrant when I was eight years old. I swopped my Turkish surname for an Indian one when I married, which means my family and I get to enjoy every festival and feast going, from Thanksgiving to Diwali! I am very thankful for this and for the education and opportunities that a life in Britain has given me. I am committed to bringing a return on that investment and opening doors for others whenever I can.

What does your new role with King’s Health Partners involve?

Working alongside the other Joint Directors of Clinical Strategy, Rachna and Natasha, my role will be to further develop King’s Health Partners work to improve population health and reduce health inequalities, both locally across south east London and globally. Improvements in life expectancy in the UK are stalling, and there is significant variation between, and also importantly within, the local boroughs we serve. It is very important that we continue to strengthen the line of sight from research to clinical care and from clinical care to the health of the public. I am very much looking forward to working with colleagues across King’s Health Partners, the South East London Sustainability and Transformation Partnership, public health teams and integrated care system teams, to promote a value based culture, improve prevention and sustainability and increase the focus on outcomes data for the whole population. I am very aware that the system is in flux, with the commissioning landscape consolidating, financial and infrastructure challenges growing and the delivery and organisation of primary care changing. I will do my best to maintain the excellent working relationships we already have across the system, support colleagues and staff, and ensure that what we do together is underpinned by the principle of improving health for all, leaving no one behind.

How do you think King’s Health Partners can make a difference in this area?

I think that King’s Health Partners is uniquely placed to make a lasting and meaningful difference to population health. As well as being a leader in biomedical research, translational medicine and education, our strategic mission already includes the impactful cross cutting themes of Value Based Healthcare, Mind & Body, informatics and Global Health. Having a Mental Health Trust as one of our partners is a distinguishing feature of our Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) and we are already delivering innovation in terms of new models of care and training to reduce the stolen years for people with mental ill health. Our inclusive Clinical Academic Group (CAG) model, with an established focus on outcomes, coupled with our implementation science capability and track record of system engagement and influence, put us in a great position as we develop our next five-year strategy. I am also interested in how innovative transdisciplinary approaches might help us look at population health through another lens, redefining healthcare as a social system for example by working with colleagues with expertise in humanities, law and social science.

What are your top priorities in your first three-to-six months, and the longer-term?

In the next few months I hope to get to know all my new King's Health Partners colleagues, and to introduce myself to the many different people who work with King's Health Partners and work across the system. I am interested in their priorities, concerns and plans, and how we can find opportunities to support and work together. I am delighted to have already met Professor Kenji Shibuya from the Institute of Population Health at King’s College London and look forward to collaborating closely with him. The recently announced England-wide new competition for AHSCs is a key piece of work I am currently supporting.

In the longer term, I would like to explore every opportunity to work with NHS, public health, local authorities and other partners to agree our shared responsibility to reduce the health gap and improve the healthy life-span of our population, in particular vulnerable groups such as those with mental ill health and the homeless. I would like to see a population health perspective in the work and outputs of all CAGs, supported by continuous improvement, system-wide learning and a program of research. Driving the Vital 5 programme across the life course, from prenatal to palliative care, as well as monitoring and evaluating its impact, is a key long-term goal. Bringing in patient, carer and staff members’ voices to this dialogue is hugely important, and something that I am keen to pursue.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

There are two things I would like to share.

The first is a brilliant book called ‘Intelligent Kindness’ by John Ballatt and Penelope Campling, which I first became aware of through the work of the London Respiratory Team. This book is a compelling analysis of where healthcare systems can go astray when our deepest common human interests are forgotten.

The second is a saying of my mother’s which has helped me during many moments of self-doubt and dismay: “don’t forget that you are comparing your inside to other people’s outside”; in other words, however uncertain, worried, scared, or sad you may feel, others feel these emotions too from time to time, even when putting on a brave front! Remembering this can help to keep us honest and compassionate.

Check out our recent article to meet all three key individuals appointed as Joint Directors of Clinical Strategy on the King's Health Partners leadership team.