What question should your GP be asking?   Not ‘What’s the matter with you?  Rather …What matters to you? (Sir Sam Everington)

Those are the wise words of Sir Sam Everington one of the keynote speakers at the recent FHT Federation of Holistic Therapists conference.  Sam is a GP, chair of Tower Hamlet’s Clinical Commissioning Group, an elected member of the British Medical Association’s Council, director of Community Health Partnerships, Honorary Professor of Queen Mary University of London, and vice president of the College of Medicine and Queen’s Nursing Institute. Sir Everington believes that quality of life is the strongest determinant of good health and has been championing lifestyle changes, social prescription and care in the community for many years.

janey at conference

I was fortunate to be hosting the conference and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,  In my work interviewing leading lights in the world of holistic health and wellbeing – including a good number of therapists and complementary practitioners,  I often find myself lamenting the lack of ‘connection’ between the medical profession and the ‘holistic world’   This conference and especially Sam’s talk went a long way to changing that perception and leaving me and the hundreds of therapists at the conference feeling as though hope was on the horizon. 

sam everington this one

In his presentation, Sam showed us slides and gave us a guided tour of the Bromley By Bow GP partnership, which uses a holistic approach to build a healthy community.  The building looks nothing like an NHS practice, in fact with its lovely arch, wisteria covered doorway, herb garden and café / art gallery, it looks more like a funky arts centre than a GP practice.  Sam purposely insists that there are no NHS signs, or even a clear sign saying ‘GP surgery’, Why? Because he wants to encourage conversations and hopes that visitors arriving for the first time whether that is for an appointment, to attend one of the many events held there, or just for a coffee and a chat, will have to ask someone,  he believes interaction is key.

I loved Sam’s approach, it was so refreshing to hear of a GP who totally gets that the ten minutes he can spend with a patient is often not going to cut it, he rarely signs people off work, believing daytime TV to be unhelpful in recover, and he is well aware that a high percentage of wellbeing can be attributed to someone’s environment, their sense of unity, at home and in the workplace. He pointed out that its well documented that loneliness leads to stress, which leads to ill health and the inability to repair cells   Many high users of hospitals and GP services have a ‘social problem’ rather than a medical one per se, and he believes social prescription is key.   Sam reports that it’s been found that there is twenty per cent less use of NHS services where social prescription is in place.  Community is what is important and that’s why his motto is so strong, that it’s not about the diabetes or the arthritis that a patient might present to the doctor with, it’s not ‘What’s the matter with them’, but rather..’What matters to them’, are they lonely? Anxious? Seeking friendship and companionship, do they need support at home or to feel like part of a community?

London, United Kingdom - Thursday 02 May 2013, BBBC - Impact Report Images
London, United Kingdom – Thursday 02 May 2013, BBBC – Impact Report Images

Sam and his team have someone managed to make this work in a challenging situation, making a definite impact on their community.  Tower Hamlets isn’t the richest of London boroughs and has no less than sixty different cultures represented, but working together is important and Sam wants to bring communities together.  He believes the future is bright for the holistic practitioners and therapists too, he believes it’s that community that can make a difference in years to come, to work alongside rather than be ‘at war’ with the NHS.

bromley by bow centre

Because that has been the case for far too long, it seems there is a huge gulf between conventional medicine and complementary and therapeutic medicine and yet this conference was all about integrated healthcare.  Another great speaker was Dr Michael Dixon, one of the most influential figures in healthcare. Michael is a GP, national clinical lead for social prescribing for NHS England, chairman of the College of Medicine, and an appointed government advisor on GP commissioning. He is also a strong advocate of preventative medicine, healthy living and integrated healthcare, he pointed out that NHS England declaring that herbal and homeopathic medicine must be prescribed was false economy. He pointed out how little is spent on it anyway compared to – for example medication for constipation…where the latter could – clearly be treated mostly by diet, He says while ‘so called science’ may not be able to ‘prove’ its efficacy,  the patients experience often does.

It was inspirational hearing from GP’s at the cutting edge who embrace the holistic approach and are so keen to work alongside holistic therapists.  There is also some incredible work already going on across the Uk by holistic therapists.  We heard from Anita Mahrez, a senior member of the complementary therapy team at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, who bring therapeutic support to anxious patients struggling to cope with challenging symptoms and procedures, she brought tears to my eyes as she described some of the challenges people with cancer faced and how their huge menu of treatments which include massage, aromatherapy, reflexology and much more provided so much benefit to the patients and their carers.  NHS staffs are not forgotten by therapists either, many are very keen to provide therapeutic treatments to them in order to support their well being in a difficult job.

Jennifer Young from Beauty Despite Cancer, who is an author, an aromatherapist, nutritional therapist and product formulator, spoke about her pioneering work training therapists to provide support for those affected by cancer, and she gave us some heart-warming examples of how this support can help minimise the negative impact of cancer on wellbeing and appearance.

jennifer young

Dr Michael Dixon had a wonderfully optimistic take on the NHS’s decisions not to get involved in offering holistic care – so long as they are open to collaboration.  As he says ‘The darkest hours come before dawn’ and maybe now we will see incredible change, therapists and practitioners can be the ones to step in and reduce the load and provide that much needed holistic approach.

The conference concluded with the presentation of the GHT excellence awards aiming to highlight the amazing work being carried out by therapists across the UK, it was inspirational to hear some of the case studies. Testimonials and examples of best practice.  It was great to see these individuals recognised and great to complete the day with a sense of optimism and possibility for integrated offerings across all of healthcare and wellbeing in the UK

To find a therapist and find out more about the work of the FHT https://blog.fht.org.uk

Sir Sam Everington is part of Bromley By Bow centre   https://www.bbbc.org.uk

Dr Michael Dixon is chairman of the College of Medicine https://collegeofmedicine.org.uk