'If we could actually listen to what's important to our patients…'

We look back on Professor Karen Rodham's appearance at the Latitude Festival.

July saw Professor Karen Rodham (University of Staffordshire) appear as our nominated speaker at the Latitude Festival in Suffolk. In front of a packed audience in the ‘SpeakEasy’, Rodham took part in a panel discussion on ‘The future of healthcare’.

In a session chaired by presenter and comedian Robin Ince, Professor Rodham provided a vital health psychology perspective. The other participants were Professor Daniel Davis, author of The Beautiful Cure, who discussed how research in understanding the human immune system leads us to new ideas for medicines for treating cancer and other diseases; and Professor Greg Hannon, director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute who is internationally recognised for his contributions to the discovery of cancer genes. 

Following up on themes from her July ‘Rated’ article for us, Professor Rodham pointed to the need for the more medically minded approaches to work with psychologists over effective behaviour change. ‘If we could actually listen to what’s important to our patients we are working with… what’s important to health professionals is to manage the symptoms, but often what is important to the patient is to live well with their condition despite the symptoms. There’s a subtle difference there.’

Professor Rodham pointed to numerous examples from her own research and practice, and that of other health psychologists, including one man who had autism and was diabetic, and was struggling to manage his condition. As a consequence, he had to have some toes amputated. ‘The nursing staff were really cross… they had given him the literature. My colleague asked to see the leaflets, took them away and found them really confusing. He went back to the chap and started from basics, talked him through the literature… at that point this man said: “So that’s why they took my toes”. That’s why he had been aggressive, he’d been worried about what else the health professionals were going to take when he turned up at the hospital that day.’

These are ‘interesting times’, Rodham concluded… ‘the most immediate need is that people living with chronic conditions for longer are sometimes labelled a being a burden… but it’s just that our health needs have changed, and we need to look better at how we can help these people cope, so that they aren’t cycling back into the system.’

- Our thanks as ever to arts curator Tania Harrison for including us in this year’s event. Read transcripts of previous sessions on our website, or see the free special edition in our app.

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