The Simon Heng Column

    Two recent Community Care articles welcomed the
    development of the expert patient programme (Perspectives and
    “Patient heal thyself”, 15 July). The writers of each article saw
    some of the programme’s benefits as encouraging people with
    long-term conditions to be healthier, and to have a more positive
    outlook on life.

    Having managed to contract three conditions in 13 years, namely
    bowel cancer, tetraplegia and type II diabetes (lucky me!), I’ve
    gradually begun to appreciate the advantages, if not necessities,
    of being an expert in my own disabilities and illnesses.

    Wheelchair users have a number of occupational hazards that need
    monitoring, from the obvious such as pressure sores, through to
    progressive lowering of bone density and kidney failure, as well as
    the constant risk of urinary tract infections.

    People with type II diabetes need to consider early signs of
    circulatory problems and glaucoma, among others. Bowel cancer
    survivors, like people with diabetes, need to control their diets,
    as well as needing to watch for symptoms of possible recurrence.

    I decided, from the start, to find out as much about my conditions
    as possible, thinking that no one would have my best interests at
    heart more than I would. If I learned the warning signs, no one
    else would be better placed to notice changes. This has meant that
    I’ve been able to spot potential difficulties and deal with them
    before they have become serious problems, and catch infections
    before they become life-threatening.

    As a result, I’ve been much healthier than I would have been (and
    saved the health service a fortune in in-patient stays), and much
    more confident in dealing with difficulties – with the help of my
    carers and the community services. In turn, this has meant that
    I’ve been able to be much more active, which has boosted my sense
    of well-being and purpose. Staying as healthy as you can has its
    own rewards.

    I recognise the value of peer-led education, which is the basis of
    the expert patient programme: my only problem is that I’m so busy I
    haven’t got time to become involved in it!

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