Kate Granger: See me, not just my disease

Kate Granger

See and treat patients as people, don't reduce them to a disease, Dr Kate Granger told a conference of healthcare leaders today (6 June).

In a room-silencing  speech on the last day of the NHS Confederation’s annual conference and exhibition, Dr Granger shared her experience of NHS care from both sides of the doctor’s desk – as a practitioner and terminally-ill cancer patient.

Speaking candidly of her experience, she highlighted the need for practitioners to "see me, not just my disease", recounting a stay in hospital when she was repeatedly referred to as "that girl with the rare cancer" and "bed seven". 

"I'm much more than a rare cancer," she said.

Core values

She used her inspirational speech to discuss a set of core values she's learned as a patient, and which have influenced her clinical practice. Good and consistent communication, the 'little things', putting the individual person at the centre of their own care and ensuring a human connection make a huge difference, she told the audience.


She described how she was left "psychologically scarred" by the junior doctor who, having failed to introduce himself, sat down, looked away and told her "your cancer has spread", then left as quickly as he came.

"I was left in deep psychological distress," she said.

Although she received significantly more negative news from an oncologist some time later, the experience was markedly different because of how the news was delivered – with a human touch. "It wasn't as distressing."

She urged all those in patient-facing roles to think about how they deliver bad news and to consider how the recipient will "live that story".

A simple introduction

Raising the importance of the 'little things' – holding a hand, introducing oneself, sitting down next to the patient, taking extra time to listen to fears and anxieties – she said they make the difference between a good and bad experience. 

She told the audience the impetus for the '#hello my name is' campaign – a social movement encouraging anyone in a patient-facing role to introduce themselves – stemmed from a week-long stay in hospital when the lack of introduction permeated all ranks of the medical staff. When a porter named Brian did, it made a big difference, she said.

Doing so "provides a human connection" and re-balances power between patients and practitioner – patient are at the bottom of the pile in power stakes, practitioners at top of the scale.

Truly person centred

On the issue of person-centred care, she acknowledged that it is a much-used phrase in the NHS and questioned what it meant. For her, it's about not forgetting the patient, and spoke of an instance when a serious change of treatment had not been communicated to her.

She told the audience she would love her legacy to be an NHS that considers patients as a person, and the whole person.

She is using her time left to improve care in NHS.

Her speech came at the end of three days of powerful and thought-provoking speeches from figures across the health and care sector.

Watch Kate's speech

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