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Independents' Day

Working Life: TEDxNHS

In a double Working Life’s, Pulse hears the reality of primary care projected across the O2

ted x nhs

Profiles - Dr Sarah Hillman and Dr Andy Knox

Roles - Dr Hillman is a an ST4 GP trainee at Coventry and Warwickshire Vocational Training Scheme and academic clinical fellow at the University of Warwick

Dr Knox is a GP partner in Carnforth, director of population health for Morecambe Bay, honorary lecturer at Lancaster University and member of NHS Assembly


Sarah TEDxNHS 2019 finally arrives! This is the NHS’s independently organised event, following the format of TED Talks, the global movement that allows people to voice ideas in 15-minute speeches.

Founded in 2016, it’s the world’s largest TEDx event license holder and its voluntary organisers, who change annually, work across the NHS, as do all speakers and audiences.

Working on a not-for-profit basis, TEDxNHS seeks to ‘bring change to the NHS through storytelling’. Its fourth year is themed ‘beyond our component parts’.

Thrown together by the past 24 hours of rehearsals, the team leaves our hotel early. I first considered applying for TEDxNHS after a tweet from my programme director. I felt I didn’t stand a chance but her encouragement to get over my imposter syndrome spurred me on.

I’m older than many other GP trainees, and my previous focus on research opened my eyes to how the NHS is a male-orientated system, in terms of careers and female patients’ care.

With this in mind, I named my speech ‘#IAmAMedicalFeminist’. A while later, I was informed I’d been shortlisted.

I was selected after a phone interview, and spent the subsequent months being mentored by a TEDxNHS speaker, editing and completing workshops with RADA.

Andy Hearty breakfast eaten, I head to the speakers’ briefings, then try to relax.

My colleague Karen Kyle nominated me for TEDxNHS because my role on ‘Better Care Together’ promotes community involvement and active living in Morecambe.

I wanted to do a talk asking ‘are we really well?’, based on the notion that poor environments lead to poor health.

I’m a seasoned public speaker, but rewrote this talk 18 times. Cramming everything into 15 minutes is difficult – I ultimately amalgamate two topics – but teaches me so much about honing messages and delivering them effectively.


Sarah The O2 is already buzzing, with the neon TEDxNHS announcement looming over queues of 1,000-plus. This isn’t calming my fear of forgetting my lines, so I take a stroll. But not for long…


Sarah The moment we’ve been waiting for comes in the form of the ELFTin1Voice choir, shortly replaced by the first speaker. I note how small Yusuf Yousuf, a porter, looks against the huge stage, although his message is anything but.


Andy I stride onto my set with a smile. This falters when I realise I’m reciting a different first line to what I’d rehearsed, but I’m soon back in the zone.

From Pasteur and Béchamp’s argument on the true causes of illness, I conclude we should both prevent disease and build wellness. But if we’re going to stop the current sense of overwhelm within healthcare, we have to work differently with our communities.

So, I emphasise how embracing hope, inclusivity, joy and kindness can encourage a focus on what’s possible, and a sense of camaraderie and perspective. I feel these strengthen our ability to show patients how they can thrive and find purpose, despite health inequalities.


Sarah I’m up! I’ve got infallible support here, including my husband and training practice partners, who help with my internal ‘you’ve got this’.

I share my journey into medical feminism, the bravery of the Edinburgh Seven in pioneering for women in healthcare, my own unconscious bias and the developments that led to us practise primary care medicine that was designed for men. I round it off by suggesting the ‘men vs women’ dialogue changes to ‘our past vs our future’.


Sarah I am flooded with relief, enjoying the after-party and sense of achievement.

Andy: I hope I convinced listeners of the ways to revamp healthcare delivery, even on a localised level. I also note the other speakers who created beautiful stories from tough challenges. It was a privilege to be part of something so memorable.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • DrRubbishBin

    I got as far as "my previous focus on research opened my eyes to how the NHS is a male-orientated system, in terms of careers and female patients’ care." I'm utterly sick of this kind of blatant sexism which is trotted out so frequently. Not only is it gobsmakingly sexist it's flys in the face of reality. As a locum everyday i go to practices where you'd be lucky to find a male anywhere except in the waiting room, The admin staff are female, the practice manager is female, the nurses and midwives are female , the phlebotomists is female, all the GPs are female and low and behold often most of the patients too! It seems to me great swaths of primary care are run by and expressly for the benefit of the female sex, it is utter nonsense to suggest it's all about men. That is utter crap. The author has come across men in numbers elsewhere it seems and takes this as evidence they are up to no good. Really?

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  • "Hope, inclusivity, joy and kindness".

    When I get short of breath with weight loss, dullness to percussion and absent breath sounds over my left lower chest, speaking personally, I would prefer a competent clinical examination and a PA Cxray.

    But hey, that's just me.

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  • Can see where DrRubbishBin is coming from. Would the pale, middle class, it’s ‘so easy to pass the CSA’ etc ladies who have taken over primary medical care in the UK, care to explain the mess the profession/service is in? Doubt it!
    Raymond Tallis predicted such an outcome about two decades ago.

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  • David Banner

    I’m all in favour of a bit of optimism in these dark times, but focusing on “medical feminism” or “inclusivity and kindness” does seem to be missing the point.
    As us old, knackered full time (mainly) male partners are worked into extinction, the young, spirited part time(mainly) female salaried doctors are (quite rightly) not willing to bear the yoke of 8am - 6.30pm 5 days a week with bottomless workload that we are/were subjected to.
    Which begs the simple question. How will Primary Care survive?
    The sexist point is well made but is rapidly becoming historical. Kicking the pale male stale corpse may give some satisfaction, but it’s already dead.
    And being kind and inclusive is difficult when chained to your desk for 10 hours or more.
    We need radical new ideas, not just empty Woke sloganeering.

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