Central to all our discussions are patients, and we spend a lot of time focussing on how we can improve the services that we organise and fund for Doncaster people.
Normally we start the meeting listening to the care experiences of a local patient in person. It’s a good way of getting feedback on how local health services are performing. But at our last meeting we broke new ground by watching our first patient experience story on film, and what a heart-warming account of the value of true friendship it proved to be.
It chronicled the recent experiences of a man in his late 50s called Bernie, who lived on his own, with no family nearby, in a terraced street close to Doncaster town centre.
Bernie moved here from his native north west 17 years ago to work on the railways and, following retirement, joined a network of enthusiasts with a passion for trains.
He was a regular on the memorabilia circuit, regularly bumping into a couple of fellow enthusiasts called Clive and John.
But the pair began noticing that Bernie was missing meetings, and when he did turn up he often repeated the same sentence over and over again.
It came to a head when they found out that Bernie had been picked up by police in Leeds, wandering around thinking he was on his way abroad on holiday.
They decided to find out more and were shocked when they visited Bernie’s home. He wasn’t looking after himself, the place was a mess and he was living in virtual isolation with appointments and bills piling up behind the door.
It was clear he needed some help. So Clive and John started to try and sort out his life, even though it meant regular 200 mile round trips from their homes near Manchester to take him to the health appointments he had previously missed. It was at one of those appointments that Bernie was diagnosed with dementia.
When Bernie moved to Doncaster in the 1990s he had left behind a home in Crewe that had fallen into neglect. Clive and John persuaded Bernie to move back to the north-west, having overseen the repairs to make it habitable again.
He’s now back there, his life is back on track and he’s receiving the medication and care package he needs. Val – his long-term neighbour in Crewe – and Clive and John are regular visitors as he’s close enough for them to call by to check out that he’s ok.
Bernie’s story highlights the importance of looking out for those who may need help but may not recognise it themselves, or know where to go. It’s care without boundaries, friendship beyond words.