Time To Care – Dr Susan Brennan

Introducing Susan Brennan, a locum GP, who has recently joined the Thalidomide Trust as a medical advisor

Time to care

What can you do in ten minutes?

Make a cup of tea? Get to the end of your garden? Read the next chapter of your book?

As a locum GP I get just ten minutes with my patient; to find out why they’ve come to see me, to get to the root of the problem, make a diagnosis and prescribe the right treatment. There’s not much time to ask how they really feel, find out what concerns them most or how they want me to work with them; no time to really listen – but I try.

The NHS is one of the best healthcare systems in the world and with it getting such a bad press, at the moment, I want to tell people how wonderful it is - except when it comes down to time.

That’s why I joined the Thalidomide Trust a couple of months ago as one of its medical advisers, alongside Dr Dee Morrison; to give beneficiaries – and healthcare professionals – the time they need and deserve.

I qualified as a GP in 2012 and worked in both NHS and private practice. I’ve also been an Alevere weight loss doctor; helping people who need to lose a lot of weight in a safe and clinically supervised way without gastric surgery.  I’m still an NHS locum on the days when I’m not at the Trust and still  keep my finger on the pulse through general practice, as a way of helping beneficiaries navigate the NHS system, from investigations to treatments, as well as advising them on the best person to get referred to for their specific issues.  I’m very excited to be working for the Trust and meeting people affected by Thalidomide.

My role at the Trust

There are three strands to my role:-

Firstly, to support and help beneficiaries by offering them advice on medical issues by telephone and email, so they have the information they need to make choices and talk to their GP;

Secondly, to provide medically informed information and literature for GPs, for example about the effects of thalidomide; and for beneficiaries, about, say, how they can get the most from their GP consultation

Thirdly, to build a network of specialists and professionals with varying degrees of experience of thalidomide to work together, share information and knowledge and exchange views and ideas.

For the new generation of GPs, seeing a patient who has been affected by thalidomide is a rare occurrence. I hadn’t met anyone affected until I began working with the Trust and can see why, for some professionals, it’s easy to assume that thalidomide is just about a problem with the limbs. GPs can feel overwhelmed by the condition and with that time constraint in place, might not get to the more hidden issues like sensory problems, internal damage,  mental and emotional health issues and, quite simply – pins and needles.

For thalidomiders there can be real barriers to seeing a GP at all – being poked and prodded since infancy doesn’t really encourage you to put yourself in professionals’ hands! You don’t want healthcare professionals to make assumptions or overlook your more complex needs.

Our role as medical advisers at the Trust is to give beneficiaries the time the NHS can’t.

We can build relationships with people, and discuss what’s really concerning them and take the time to listen, carefully, and find out what the real issues are.

I’m here on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays and Dee is here on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays – so we can spend a day keeping each other informed as well as being around to help five days a week.

With two of us in place, we can spend more time on the detail and provide ongoing support.

Due to NHS time constraints it can be really difficult to treat people holistically, but we need to think about other issues when seeing people with disabilities – these can include mental health, chronic pain, or fear of losing function – and signpost them to relevant services, where possible.

By working with professionals we will be able to identify which of them have beneficiaries within their medical practice and help them support them effectively. I’m working on some materials to help with this and urge professionals to get in touch if they have queries, need resources or want to share ideas.

Ambition to work in an organisation that provides support to people

Working within an organisation that is there to support people, without profit, has long been an ambition of mine. I also like my ‘down time’  – I love cooking and baking and spending time with family and friends, and keep fit by running the odd five or ten k. I’m just as happy watching a box set on Netflix.

Professionally speaking, I’ve come to the Trust to support beneficiaries, educate and advise professionals and create a lasting network where professionals can support each other and share knowledge.  If I can achieve all three of these ambitions it will be fantastic – I will keep you informed about my progress!