Monday, 24 February 2014

Thyroid Patient Voices, Feb 2014, London event write up

British Thyroid Foundation London Group, Feb 2014 meeting, group photo
Most of the attendees at the Feb 2014, BTF London Group meeting
thanks to Darren Holman for taking this picture
Thirty of us attended the British Thyroid Foundation Patients Voices meeting at the Royal Free in Hampstead this weekend.  It was amazing, as these meetings always are. Sadly it may be my last one. I told BTF in January that I will be standing down as London Coordinator after this meeting and since then I’ve been trying to arrange for another coordinator to carry it on. Though there are lots of other London volunteers now, who have got involved in the group since it was set up, no one else has thus far said they feel confident to take over running things.  And I’m not surprised, it’s a lot of work, which is why I’m standing down.  I’ve been doing it for three years now and it’s time to move on. I’ll continue with this blog and if the London Group continues I expect I’ll continue to have some involvement and I certainly anticipate staying in touch with the many wonderful friends I’ve made. I hope there may be other ways I can support BTF. But enough is enough.  Being a local coordinator, especially for our capital city, well it’s a big job. I can’t continue to justify the amount of my time it takes.

I’ll be meeting soon with the other London based volunteers to see what we can come up with in terms of a plan for the future.  Watch this space for updates. At the moment we have dates in the diary with the Royal Free for future meetings to take place in May, Sept and November (details on BTF website) so I do hope those meetings will go ahead. Time will tell.

On Saturday everyone had a chance to say a bit about themselves and their journey with thyroid disease to date. Some were newly diagnosed and slightly anxious, seeking information, what to expect and what could they do to help themselves. Some had been ill a long time and had some bad experiences but were now at a point when they were relatively well, a couple were very disillusioned with the medical profession but most, it seemed to me, had found doctors they could work with, who were supportive, even though they may also have had some previously who were not very good. Some people there were really struggling. I think we all found it helpful to be together and share our experiences.

Judith Taylor, chair of trustees for BTF and also the editor of the BTF newsletter and thyroid cancer booklet etc, so a very knowledgeable lady, who told her personal story at one of our previous meetings, came along, which was great. Although we didn’t have an expert speaker for this event it was good to be able to refer some questions to Judith who knows so much.  

We like the Patients Voices events as much as the Information Events, it’s good just to be able to talk to each other.

The key issues that came out of our first group discussion and were identified as subjects for further exploration, in smaller groups after the break, were:

1.     Managing symptoms (lifestyle and diet, etc)
2.     Getting the most out of our doctors
3.     Psychological Wellbeing
4.     Having a Career with Thyroid Disease 

Each group then fed back their key insights and issues to the group as a whole.

One interesting action point that came out was a suggestion to BTF to develop a leaflet for employers to help them understand thyroid disease and how they can support employees with a thyroid disorder. One of the attendees is an employment lawyer who deals with disability law and she and Judith are going to take this idea forward which I think is a great initiative and many members welcomed the idea enthusiastically.

It was also interesting to note that many attendees had quite high powered jobs, as I did too, once upon a time.  Hence the discussion group we created about having a career with thyroid disease – this was a major concern for many of us who felt our capacities to perform somewhat diminished and find ourselves sometimes struggling to manage our work lives. I worry often about the millions of thyroid patients who are perhaps less naturally dynamic than this self selected and very proactive group who have all sought and found help for ourselves – and yet are still often in difficulties. I do feel the NHS – or someone - should be doing more to provide these sorts of groups more proactively to a wider group.  I would love to be making this happen but I have to draw a line under how much of myself I am prepared to give.

The comment I kept hearing – and I could identify with, particularly harking back to when I was very unwell -  was “I’m so glad to hear I am not the only one having X or Y or Z experience/symptom and now I know I’m not going mad!”  Being able to meet and chat with other thyroid patients was just wonderful, as it always is.

Everyone really enjoyed the discussion groups. It would have been good to have had more time, but running an event like this is tiring so I have always limited them to half a day and I think that’s been the right thing to do, for my own and the other volunteers’ wellbeing.

Anyway. I’m happy that we had another good event. Thanks to all who came, particularly those who helped make it happen.   Who knows what will happen next with this group. Hopefully we can find a way for it to continue.

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