Briefly, tell us about your background and career up to this point.
I studied medicine at UCL. My intercalated BSc in developmental biology, with the brilliant embryologist Professor Lewis Wolpert, inspired me to pursue an academic career. After a few years as a ‘junior’ doctor, I decided to do a PhD in cancer cell biology at the Institute of Cancer Research.
Although I loved doing research, I realised that a career in oncology wasn’t for me and decided to train in palliative medicine. A turning point in my academic career was being appointed to an NIHR Clinical Lectureship in palliative medicine at the Cicely Saunders Institute at King's. I was particularly fortunate to be supported and mentored by Professor Irene Higginson, and I was subsequently awarded an NIHR Clinician Scientist Fellowship, the first in palliative medicine. In 2021, I was appointed to the Laing Galazka Chair in Palliative Care.
Could you tell us more about the Better End of Life programme you are leading?
Everyone affected by dying, death and bereavement deserves the best possible experience. Sadly, many people experience poor care and support in the last stages of life and in bereavement, and inequalities are common. Better End of Life is a three-year programme of research funded by Marie Curie. The programme aims to understand the experiences of people affected by death, dying and bereavement in the UK today, and to frame this evidence in a way that compels policymakers to take action. An important output from the programme are our Better End of Life reports. To date have focused on COVID-19, dying at home, and out-of-hours care for people living with advanced illness.
If you could make one change to health and social care policy what would it be?
If you had asked me this a year ago I would have said ‘to ensure that dying people have a legal right to palliative care’, however, a recent and historic amendment to the Health and Care Bill means that all Integrated Care Boards in England will be required to commission palliative care. Incidentally, data from the Better End of Life programme was used in parliament in support of this. The challenge now is to ensure this policy is operationalised to improve outcomes for dying people and their families, reducing inequalities.
What is your favourite part of your role?
I am motivated by impact: That our data and research will lead to improved care and experiences for people living with advanced illnesses and their families and carers. So, I love the parts of my role that directly link the research to real-world change, such as taking part in policy round-tables and engaging the public with our research. I also get huge pleasure and satisfaction from working with and mentoring students and early career researchers, who convince me that the future is bright.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, etc.
What do you do with your time outside of work?
I try not to embarrass my two teenage boys excessively, I go to the opera as often as I can and I indulge my Deadly Killer Sudoku obsession.
New year’s resolution?
The Great Gatsby. I read it so many times as a teenager, I still know great chunks by heart.
Ideal dinner party?
My ideal dinner party would involve one guest: David Bowie, and infinite courses.