Middle Eastern patients can be sure of a welcoming environment at the London Clinic BY KATHY OXTOBY
FOR HODA BUCKLEY THE MOST enjoyable part of her role as an interpreter for Arab patients visiting the London Clinic is being able to help them overcome their culture shock and feel at home.
“Many of these patients are frightened, vulnerable, sick and in a strange country. My role is to take them step by step through what will happen to them so that they, and their families, feel reassured,” she says.
Catering to their specific dietary needs is one way these patients are made to feel at ease. So much so, that she recalls: “One patient offered to kiss the hand of the chef who had made him a dinner like his mother used to make. Another was so impressed with the cuisine that he compared us to a five-star hotel.”
Every year, around 20,000 in-patients and 120,000 day-patients experience this personal level of care at the clinic, which was built by and for doctors. Located in the heart of London’s medical community on Harley Street, the clinic was established as a charity 75 years ago by leading consultants who wanted a hospital close by to which they could refer their patients.
From its inception the clinic has treated patients from overseas who account for 20 percent of its in-patients. At first, they were primarily British expatriates in need of expert care, but more recently the majority of overseas in-patients come from Arab countries.
According to business development manager, Alastair Barr, most of these patients have heard of the clinic through word of mouth and go there to receive advanced, complex treatments that are, as yet, unavailable in their home countries.
“They come here to get the best care. Sometimes, it’s a life or death situation for them. But we have a reputation for dealing with complex cases and for having some of the best consultants to handle them. Quite often that reputation has been passed down through their families or via the relationships we have built up over the years with consultants and hospitals in the Gulf,” says Barr.
Word-of-mouth referrals mean that the clinic’s marketing to these countries can be fairly low-key and is based on strengthening existing links. The clinic has close relationships with a number of Middle Eastern embassies in London, while some of its specialists have visited hospitals in the Gulf States to share their expertise. It holds health conferences and exhibitions, including a 10-day event in Dubai earlier this year. It also publishes a directory of consultants and specialists employed by the clinic, which it sends to relevant embassies and doctors abroad to keep them up to date with the services and treatments it offers.
The clinic specialises in a number of areas including endocrinology, diabetes, neurosurgery and oncology. Many people from the Gulf come for the clinic’s advanced oncology care, which includes chemotherapy and stem-cell and bone-marrow transplantations. However, numbers of overseas patients requiring fertility treatments and cosmetic surgery are also increasing, again primarily through word of mouth.
Care is delivered by 300 consultants, many of whom are leaders in their field and most of whom hold NHS teaching posts throughout London. The clinic’s team of nurses includes members who undertake clinical nurse specialist roles including gynaecology, Macmillan Cancer nursing, preoperative assessment and venous thrombosis. It also employs dedicated specialist research fellows, who provide 24-hour additional support to the consultants and nursing teams. A consultant-led intensive care team, which is the largest in the UK private sector, is also at hand should emergency support be required.
Of particular appeal to women from the Gulf States is the fact that the clinic has an all-female team – one of the few in the UK to do so – who can be mindful of cultural sensitivities. It also employs one of the only female neurosurgeons to work in the UK private sector.
To ensure the continued professional development of its staff, the clinic, which is regulated by the Healthcare Commission, has invested in a dedicated department which focuses on clinical, non-clinical and mandatory staff training.
The clinic has over 200 beds and 12 operating theatres including a three-theatre endoscopy suite and a day surgery unit. Its charitable status means it reinvests its surplus back into the hospital. In the past five years, it has ploughed US$130 million into improving medical equipment and hospital facilities including US$4 million on a new operating theatre. It also houses the latest advance in robot-assisted technology, the da Vinci© Surgical System, which treats prostate cancer through keyhole surgery and is one of only a few available in the UK.
To help reassure patients and their families and make them feel relaxed, comfortable and safe, the clinic focuses on individual care. For the 5,000 patients from the Middle East who pass through its doors every year, this means having two interpreters on hand to help the patients, explain treatments, medication and facilities and to offer moral support.
It also means being sensitive to their needs, offering menus in Arabic with food specially prepared, as well as Arabic newspapers on request, dedicated television channels, dual Arabic/English signage and diagrams in each room showing which direction to pray to Mecca. While the average patient’s stay is five days, some may be at the clinic for several weeks so it is helpful that the clinic is located close to an Islamic cultural centre as well as being within easy reach of London’s major shopping centres.
A 24-hour telephone interpretation service is also available for overseas patients – an increasing number of which are now coming from Turkey, Cyprus and Africa for an increasing variety of procedures – having heard of the clinic through its reputation for excellence and through the relationships forged by its doctors.
As part of its development plans, the clinic is building a US$142 million cancer treatment centre (see box), new consultancy rooms and specialist liver care facilities, which will help it to attract overseas patients in the future as well as keeping it ahead of emerging competition in Thailand and Singapore.
“We are developing services for overseas patients in response to their needs,” says marketing director Karen Bullivant. “We have longstanding working partnerships with many Middle Eastern countries who know the clinic because of its reputation for quality and excellence. Having been here for 75 years we can inspire trust in what we do, which we know is extremely important to these patients,” she adds.
And that trust is being strengthened on a daily basis by people like Hoda Buckley, who talks to patients in their own language and is someone they can confide in as they are going through a very difficult, and often very scary, time in their lives. “We befriend the patients. This is so important, particularly when you have someone who is told in their own country that their case is hopeless. Then they leave the clinic happy and healthy. That is what makes all the difference. That is what we live for.”