Howard's story - Part 2

Dr Howard Leicester is featured in Spark the Difference's Humans of Healthcare art exhibition and is interviewed here by Sam Meikle, founder of Spark the Difference.

Howard's interview is published in two parts. You can listen Part 1 of Howard's interview here. The recording and transcript of Part 2 is below. You'll also find links to Howard's two interview warm-ups: (1) Getting to know Howard in 10 questions and (2) Howard's drawing challenge.

Please note: In this part of the interview, Howard also shares how his sense of humour sometimes gets him into trouble. This might almost be a 'PG' rating, so best to listen with headphones if you have kids around, or are listening at work. 

Sam: Thinking about when you or a family member have used health or social care services has there been a time when it went really well?

Howard: When I had an experience about 20 years ago, which was complete, it was game changing in my treatment for my hearing loss.

I had been staying in Scotland with my brother and he has a dog that has been trained not go up the stairs or chew things but he did go up the stairs, he found my hearing aids and ate them. So I was 700 miles away from any form of hearing or anything else, I managed to get a replacement set of hearing aids sent up a couple of days later.

Also Kent Hospital dealing with my hearing aids were informed about the problem, so they were getting things ready. So when I did get home, they had a brand new set of hearing aids ready for me waiting at home so I can carry on with my work and everything. So I sent them a picture, it was actually coming up to Christmas time, a picture of the offending hound called Trinity which said,

Dear Kent Hospital, I am very sorry for eating Howard’s hearing aids. I should do better next time.’

And I sent this and a letter from me saying thank you them and I sent it off. The next time, about couple of months later, I went in for a regular check-up make sure the hearing aids were working fine. I wasn’t sitting in the waiting room and being told that ‘Dr Leicester, we’ll see you in another couple of minutes, be with you in a few minutes’ they said, ‘Hello Howard, how are you mate, how you getting on?’

So besides that the dog ate my hearing aids and they responded brilliantly at the hospital and I thank them with that letter and it all added up with that chemistry that change the relationship between me as the patient and them as the professionals caring for me all to the better and its ongoing, its brilliant.


Sam: What made you decide to start working in healthcare?

Howard: When I was at university my sight and hearing were deteriorating anyway but became obvious and I thought well I needed to get back into the areas I want to be. I want to be medical-based research and I tried to do that coming back through information technology computing. So I did an MSc in effectively computing and the combination of computing and my background in the medical side of health led me into health informatics. And the opportunities to do research posts and a PhD at city University which directed me straight into health informatics in healthcare.


Sam: What has working in health and social care taught you about people?

Howard: Organisations don’t make the difference. It’s the individuals who make the difference that I have found in my personal experience. I see that so in organisations I’ve visited, worked with in health and social care, it’s just the few of the people I have met who share my views and are prepared to do things and fight to get the Accessible Information Standard on the agenda on the ball of that hospital.


Sam: If you feel comfortable to do so can you please tell me about the darkest, scariest, or most challenging moment in your career.

Howard: Well, away from the darkest moments of emotional thing like a loss of a close friend or family member - the scariest moment in my whole life was doing an abseil. Kent Association for the Blind had called, had sent around to various pubs sponsorship forms to do an abseil for their charity.

My local pub decided to put me down as the person they were going to sponsor to do this abseil event. And I thought, ‘OK, no one would bother with that.’

So many people signed that sponsorship form, I was up for sponsorship of over £1,000. I couldn’t cop out in the end. I turned up in Maidstone and a six-story, multi-storey car park and somehow had to go up there and abseil down, when I have great fear of heights.

I also had been trained for navigating on a long cane: just standing on the stall or stepping up two or three flights of steps and trying to come back down gave me vertigo. This experience I had to do it ‘cause so many people had sponsored me. It was the scariest moment. Everyone gave an enormous round of applause when I actually finished. And it was the first time I've ever gone into the pub to help me stop shaking, rather than leaving with the shakes – it was such a nervous moment.

Sam: How did you get through it at the time? What were you think when you were at the top of that building?

Howard: Well, I have a rude version of this.

Sam: Folks, put your kids to bed right now.

Howard: The truth was I knew I had to do it because so many people had sponsored me. I just couldn’t face anyone unless I did do it. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. But also the very next weekend I was a best man at a very dear friend’s wedding and he said he was very pleased that I was with everyone because only the week before I was on a very difficult abseiling event. And I thought I couldn’t say this in public, because there were grannies and aunties there –

But, I was thinking, ‘what’s the similarity between abseiling and sex?’

... in both cases you put absolute faith in somebody else's equipment!

Which is true. Well, I’m godfather to his first born daughter, so I was right not to use that.

Sam: You were telling me, only on the phone the other day that sometimes your cheekiness does get the better of you. I can’t imagine what you mean…

Howard: My brother thinks that I am - he calls it, ‘inappropriate humour’. If he's here we have a laugh and we have a good banter. If he hears about the sort of things I've said at conferences and things like that he just can’t believe it.

To an extent it is a defence mechanism, because I do - I often fill in between the jokes with solid facts and figures and logical argument. But if it was all that, no one would listen. But back to the defence mechanism - it feels nicer and more as if people are responding to you, if you do hear a titter of laughter, you know something’s happening. You know that the audience is still there, if nothing else. It’s helpful.

I sit and listen to people reading effectively their PowerPoint presentations at conferences all over the globe and I'm never convinced by anything.

It has to be an exceptional presentation to grab my attention. And I’m not saying that I’m the greatest presenter in the world, but I try to use different ways of doing things to get my message across to an extent that I am happy with. And if I can hear a bit of laughter out there, then I may have got the message outside and people are more likely to remember that they had a good laugh then if they are sitting there bored stiff.


Sam: Looking back across your career to date, what do you hope the people you’ve worked with remember you for?

Howard: The humbug joke.

Sam: Oh go on, what’s the humbug joke?

Howard: It was my dad’s favourite joke in the last few months of his life. So I told it actually at his funeral, which worked. It’s about 95 - 90% true, with a bit of poetic license.

The Methodist minister comes up over to me and says, ‘Howard, I hear you been measuring the quality and quantity of my sermons by how many polo mints you can chew.’

‘That is true minister, but don’t worry - based on the content of your sermon last weekend, I had switched the Humbugs.’

I got away with it.


Sam: If you could thank one person for helping you get where you are today, who would it be?

Howard: There was one person who, when I have been in most difficult circumstances have stepped in, often with his wife and friends - and that’s my brother. My sister has also been extremely important but I’ve removed.

But, I’d remove the restriction on one person. I am overwhelmed, that’s not the right word, I have an incredible range of good friends and people who wouldn’t stop at anything to give me support, friendship anything. So I am blessed with people who have been an inspirational and helpful to me, on many occasions.

Sam: And what would you say to them all?

Howard: I would say – you deserve the humbug joke as well.

Sam: We’ll make sure that everyone gets a copy of the Humbug joke.

Howard thank you so much for your time, I’ve enjoyed our conversation and getting to know you a little bit better. I thank you for being very open and very honest about your journey. So, thank you very much for having me here, and thank you to all of our listeners for listening.

Howard: Thank you Sam, thank you very much. Pleasure, as they say. Enjoyed it too.