Retiring doctor: ‘Patients are human beings and need face-to-face attention’

Cardiologist argues that preventative medicine requires an understanding of social factors

Friday, 6th May — By Anna Lamche

Dr Suzanna Hardman IMG_6830

Dr Suzanna Hardman: ‘You can have very high-tech approaches, you can deliver medicine in a different way, but at the end of the day, our patients are human beings’

THE future of medicine may be high-tech but many patients have more “fundamental” needs that require face-to-face attention, a pioneering Whittington heart doctor says as she retires after 40 years in the NHS.

Dr Suzanna Hardman is a consultant cardiologist credited with overseeing huge changes in attitudes and treatment of heart failure at a local and national level.

She said “there’s a big push at the moment to do as much as possible remotely and there are some exciting and sophisticated technologies [for treating heart failure]”. Despite this, “there will always be a need for face-to-face consultation”.

“You can have very high-tech approaches, you can deliver medicine in a different way, but at the end of the day, our patients are human beings,” she said.

“Among people I’ve looked after, there are some people, [that] when it comes to consultation, their life is so desperate that for the first five or 10 minutes, you may just need to listen to them, let them know that you have an understanding of that before they can move on to talking about their condition.”

Appointed to her “dream job” at Whittington Hospital in 1995, ever since she has spearheaded the concept of “community cardiology” – the idea that heart problems do not solely have to be treated in hospital – and served as the Whittington’s first Heart Failure Lead.

Colleagues this week described Dr Hardman as a “dear mentor” and a “legend” who has “treated thousands of patients and made an immeasurable impact on so many lives”.

Over the course of her career she has improved access to specialist centres, interventions and treatments. Among cardiologists, heart failure has gone from being a niche interest to a well-respected speciality.

Dr Hardman has also helped develop national guidelines on heart failure and honed a “very exciting heart failure training programme” for young doctors specialising in cardiology.

“I’ve worked through a fantastic period,” she said, adding: “I’m not taking all the credit – we have an amazing team.”

Dr Hardman has said she would like to see the focus shift from treatment of illness to its prevention. “We were supposed to be a national health service, and what we’ve actually rather concentrated on over the years is on the burden of people who have already developed disease,” she said.

“It would be nice to think that the future would finally actually be able to prevent illness and so deliver a health service alongside the service for people who are ill,” she said.

Preventative medicine requires an understanding of the social factors impacting patients’ lives. “I know there’s this plan in theory at least to develop social services, but the needs are more fundamental,” she said. “In a way if you don’t have a job and you live in terrible conditions, your health profile is so much worse.”

She added: “It’s not even about just what the doctors or social care can do – it’s all very well lecturing people to have a healthier diet, but if they can’t afford it, or they haven’t got the time because they’re trying to juggle three or four jobs and look after their families, there are all sorts of impacts.”

Ultimately, Dr Hardman has said, “the future may involve very innovative ideas, but there are also some very fundamental things which it could involve, and it’s a question of how you look at society overall, really.”

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