Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There and back again

Well... where to start? I was supposed to go to the opening event for the polyclinic I have been working with over the last few months on a training environment in Second Life. It's been planned for ages. When the tube strike in London was announced yesterday I thought that would be the end of my plan to attend the event, but when I spoke to one of the people I have been working with this morning, he asked if there wasn't any way of getting in to the event. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I thought it was possible, and so decided that instead of assuming it wasn't possible to do it, I'd try to see if I could get there.

I actually had an appointment tomorrow too, and so it seemed like a good test to see if the travel conditions were possible or not. I arrived at West Ruisip station around 12.08 and was surprised to find there was a fifty minute wait for a train. Stupidly I had assumed they might put on more trains, but I hadn't checked the timetable (obviously). I used the time well though: I watched Seth Godin and Ray Kurzweil on Ted Talks. Very instructive and thought-provoking they were too.

There were a few people there who had traveled from Uxbridge to get the mainline to London - most without any idea how they would make their onward journey. I began to worry that the train, when it arrived, would be like the Tokyo underground, with more and more people arriving at the station. It was crowded but there were seats.

I had thought about taking the bus from Marylebone, but the buses were all full and I could see the main road was nose-to-tail traffic, so I decided to get a cab. When I saw how gridlocked London roads were it didn't seem like quite such a good idea, but at least the cab was able to take shortcuts to try to avoid the worst of the traffic, something which buses (if you could get on them) couldn't do. I grabbed fellow passenger who was trying to get a bus to Islington to share the cab.

I got to the Health Centre, and was in time to be introduced to Alan Bennett, who was doing the official opening. I explained that I was making a virtual training environment and Roy MacGregor, who is one of the doctors working on the project indicated the video I had spent the weekend putting together in SL.

I didn't want to seem like an effusive fan and so didn't mention that I am familiar with his work and love it. It was only afterwards that I realised that really, unless you have time to get to know a celebrity, probably that is the only thing that one can say that would be interesting to someone in the public eye, but the moment had passed.

He told me that the camera crew who were setting up were following him around for a profile they are doing on him, but unfortunately they weren't filming at the moment I was talking to him, and he moved on to other people before they were. There were various journalists and photographers in the crowd, one of whom was from the PCT as this story and photograph was on the website by the time I got home.

I took a variety of poor pictures on my phone. Unfortunately, though I was in a good position for the speeches, the group moved to the cake table for the cutting of the cake ceremony which meant I was some way away through a crowd. If you want to see good pictures of the building, which has already won awards and is up for more, you can see them here.

Both Roy and Alan Benett made a speech on the opening of the Kentish Town Heath Centre, which I thought was the first purpose-built polyclinic in the country... but maybe not, as I didn't hear them actually say this in the speeches. It was clear that the project to make a community-based polyclinic in Kentish Town was one which had been achieved mostly by the inspiration and energy of Roy... it really does take someone exceptional to move this sort of project into reality.

Roy Macgregor thanked all the people who had played a part in the project to build, and had to swallow hard and give himself a slap on the face when his voice cracked a couple of times on thanking his family for their part in supporting him, and of the people it was al for - the patients. He then handed over to Alan Bennett who made a wonderful speech paying tribute to Roy, as the instigator, and main motivator of the project, and to the National Health Service. He mentioned in his speech that the US health industry were using examples from the NHS as evidence that public health does not work, but this health centre is a wonderful example of how well it can work when it works well.

And it is. I have been working with doctors from the practice over the past few months and I have been amazed by how dynamic and caring the group of doctors are, and what a high standard of service and care they offer to their patients. Now that they are housed in the new purpose-built centre, they are providing a community resource which, as Alan Bennett noted, is a community in itself.

I met an interesting man during the ceremony and the cake and fruit juice reception which took place after the speeches, who told me that he was a psychotherapist originally from New York, working with patients with HIV/AIDs. I learned from him that more people tested positive for HIV in the UK last year than in all the previous years put together, and the alarming news that roughly half the people who are positive, don't know they are infected.

It struck me that there has been very little publicity about HIV/AIDs recently. The therapist's view was that all the money in HIV/AIDs had gone to fund the combined drugs therapy for people with the infection, and very little into education or publicity. His view was that the scary tombstone adverts of the 1980s ought to have be continued (as similar ones were in America). I don't know about this. In the past, the pattern of infection in the UK was quite different from the US. I think that probably because they had blood stock infected with HIV, the spread in the US seemed to cover the whole of the population more or less from the start.

In the UK, notwithstanding the dire warnings and general advertising that went on at the beginning, the infection remained in the gay community and intravenous drugs users, along with immigrants from African nations, for some time. It looks as though that profile has gradually changed, however, and we haven't been made aware of it.

We were given canvas bags from Camden PCT, with a number of free gifts within. A bizarre collection which included a stress ball (to help with giving up smoking) and a pen, a bowel cancer screening kit and pen (!), and a sheaf of leaflets. I dunno about these. I'm not sure what the role of Camden-PCT-promoting canvas bags is. People can't generally be sold a PCT : they are stuck with whichever one is local to them.

Having had contact with Camden PCT in various ways over the last year, not least my son's surgery at UCH over New Year, and the Kentish Town Health Centre, I do not need persuading that they are getting some things so right that they ought to be a model for other PCTs to follow. But a canvas bag freebie is neither here nor there in that judgement. I don't know why they think it is a worthwhile investment for them.

I left at about 3.15 pm, and had a long and tedious journey which I shall gloss over for your sake. It involved a walk, a bus, a walk from Kings Cross to Warren Street, a realisation that with all buses full and blisters on my feet I wasn't going to get to Paddington without a taxi, a taxi, a mainline train, another bus and another walk. A journey which would normally last about an hour and ten minutes on a good day took over three hours. In all I spent about six hours travelling and £40 on taxis, buses and cabs. It was worth it to shake hands with Alan Bennett, and to be part of the celebration of the new centre.


  1. congratulations Cali, I'll have to come visit the buidl again now it's finished :)

  2. Well done Cali

    Clearly mere striking railmen can't keep Alan Bennett and his admirers apart; I guess a virtual event wouldn't have been quite the same. Did you offer to help Alan with his SL Avatar?

    Seriously, the Kentish Town Health Centre is a great initiative; congratulations to all involved.


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