‘I feel like I’m part of history’: Meet the quiet heroes of Our Future Health
Visit any Our Future Health clinic around the country and you’ll be met by a team of friendly faces wearing green uniform. These healthcare professionals are doing something that’s never been done before. They administer appointments every day to help people sign up to the UK’s largest ever health research programme.
Their insight into Our Future Health is like no other. So, what is it like to work at our clinics and meet members of the public from all walks of life?
‘Everyone is so supportive’
Sabah Hussain, service delivery lead (SDL) at our Leicester mobile clinic, has worked on Our Future Health since last October. Her job involves ensuring that the clinic runs smoothly, as well as seeing participants and ensuring stock is topped up.
“I enjoy the work and the team I work with,” she says. “Everyone is so supportive.”
When volunteers sign up to Our Future Health, as well as filling in an online health questionnaire, they attend an appointment at one of our clinics located across the UK. During the appointment, they have some measurements taken, including their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and donate a small sample of blood.
“I’ve met a few people who’ve never had a blood test before, but they are adamant they want their blood sample taken so it can be used for research for future generations,” says Sabah.
The checks occasionally highlight potential health issues that participants weren’t aware of before attending their appointment. “One lady I met discovered that her blood pressure was sky-high,” Sabah says. “We told her to go to A&E, and she came back a week later with flowers and chocolates for the staff because it turned out she had sepsis due to an underlying infection, which wouldn’t have been picked up otherwise.
“I feel privileged that I’m working on this project” she adds. “It’s going to bring important change – so much is going to come out of this research.”
‘The public is invested in this programme’
Natalie King is regional manager for the northwest. She ensures that all the clinics in her region are running smoothly, checking that the SDLs like Sabah have everything they need, while also supporting senior management.
“For me, the real positive of this job is meeting the volunteers,” she says. “People are so invested in this research. It’s fantastic. I met a young man with Crohn’s disease the other day – he’d chosen to come along specifically to help with research into that disease. And just this morning I saw someone with high cholesterol for her age. What’s great is that now she has that information and can do something about it.”
Tanya Marks, a healthcare assistant at our Leicester mobile unit, echoes Natalie’s passion for meeting volunteers. “I’m a people person, so I like doing this job,” she says. “It’s only really by working here that you see all the benefits we’re providing to people. Our Future Health is all about prevention and detection. If you pick something up for someone, you feel like you’ve helped them that day. It’s a positive thing.”
Borivoj Todorcic, SDL at our Enfield mobile clinic, highlights the importance of the research’s potential for changing the way disease is prevented. “For a long time, there hasn’t been enough focus on prevention. We have an opportunity to provide feedback to people about possible health conditions they might have. It means they can make changes to prevent diseases. It’s a step closer towards personalised healthcare.”
Like the other staff members, Borivoj has met a number of participants who have made life-changing discoveries during their appointment. “We had someone recently whose blood pressure was in the very high category,” he says. “We told them to get it checked at a pharmacy as soon as possible, which they did and they were given medication to control it. They came back a couple of weeks later to thank us for what we’re doing.
“It feels good to be part of something bigger, to contribute towards better healthcare and helping potentially millions of people in the future.”
Helping the future of the NHS
To get to that point though, we need to recruit up to five million volunteers. “It’s almost overwhelming when you think about the scale of it – I’m extremely proud to be part of it,” says contract director Jessica Roper. Jessica oversees operations on all the sites, including staff recruitment, quality assurance and movement of the mobile sites, which transfer to new locations every month.
Like the other members of staff, Jessica’s found that working on this programme offers unique rewards. “It’s really exciting to be part of it because, in 20 years of nursing, I’ve never worked in research before. I’m learning a lot as well as being part of history.”
Jessica remembers an appointment with a woman in a mobile clinic earlier this year. “The participant saw her cholesterol result was slightly high, along with her blood pressure and pulse, and said, ‘This is what I needed – to see these figures to help me lose weight. You’ve just shown me that I need to get healthier. It’s amazing that you’re doing this.’”
Like many of the staff and participants at our clinics, Jessica hopes that Our Future Health will help ease pressure on the NHS in years to come. “I’ve worked in the NHS, and the healthcare system is so stretched. If this research can help improve that, it will make a major difference to so many lives.”