Ranisha Dhamu is featured in Spark the Difference's Humans of Healthcare art exhibition and is interviewed here by Sam Meikle, founder of Spark the Difference.
You'll also find links to Ranisha's two interview warm-ups: (1) Getting to know Ranisha in 10 questions and (2) Ranisha's drawing challenge.
Sam: Welcome to the Humans of Healthcare edition of the Spark the Difference podcast. My guest in this episode is Ranisha Dhamu. Ranisha, thanks for joining me.
Ranisha: Thank you.
Sam: Where’s your accent from?
Ranisha: London. North West London
Sam: What do you do for work now?
Ranisha: At the moment I’m on a secondment working for the Local Government Association. And working on pioneers, the health pioneer work that is going on - working with NHS and Department of Health and just working on Informatics.
Sam: For the person on the street, what’s a health pioneer site?
Ranisha: The NHS and Department of Health have said that by 2020 they want to digitalise health and social care. In the last 2-3 years there have been 25 pioneer sites being brought up, where health and social care are working together to try and improve the integration between the two different authorities. I work on the Informatics part just to make sure that data, IT, all of that, is working where we can help.
Sam: What were you doing before that?
Ranisha: I’m an information governance officer for the London Borough of Brent.
I help Brent making sure that the citizens data is safe, that we make sure that we share information between us and other local authorities or other organisations - safely, securely and appropriately. I deal with any data breaches. I did a lot of Subject Access Requests where the public would write in and ask for their information. So making sure they get the right information.
Sam: What has working in health and social care services meant to you?
Ranisha: Me personally, I’ve got cerebral palsy - I was born with cerebral palsy. Working in health and social care has actually opened my eyes to how it actually all works on the inside. You see the bad press; you never see the good press. You always see bad press and you think ‘really is that how it works?’
But being on the inside, it gives you a different view to it, altogether. So for me, it’s helped me with my personal life and I think what we’re doing is helping the public. Well, hopefully it will help the public in the right way.
Sam: Thinking about when you or a family member used health or social care services, can you tell me that time when it didn't go so well?
Ranisha: When I was born they had to use forceps to deliver me and because they used the forceps there was a lack of oxygen to my head for literally 30 - 40 seconds, if that. And that’s what caused my cerebral palsy.
And obviously both my parents had arrived in England in ’71 and I was born in ’73. So they were still pretty new and they had only come over here because they got kicked out of Uganda because of Idi Amin. And my mum thought there was something wrong with me - obviously English wasn’t her first language and would rely on my father to help her.
She always said to him, ‘there’s something not right, there’s something not right, there’s something not right.’
She'd mentioned it and he would bring it up to health service. And they said ‘no no no there is nothing wrong with her’ because they couldn’t physically see anything wrong with me as a baby. But as I started moving and walking they realised because I had a limp. So it took them a good two to three years before anybody actually physically did anything about it. And that's because they could physically see that there was something wrong with me. I don’t know if it would a difference.
My mum blames the way they delivered me. So when I had my babies, she could go frantic making sure it went ok. She was very scared of that and I think, I don’t think she’s ever gotten over that.
I need a hip replacement but they keep pushing me off, because I’m too young. So I've got to deal with the pain. I’ve got a walking stick now, which has been hard. It’s taken me a good year to get used to it. I feel uncomfortable because of my children - you know, trying to explain to them why Mum’s like this. But they have been really, really good. Not once have they ever questioned, 'why do you limp, or why do you shake'. Which just shows how well they have been brought up, to be honest.
Sam: What one piece of advice would you give to young professional who is just starting out on their career about how to retain their values or how to stay human in an increasingly stressed and difficult environment?
Ranisha: Always follow what you believe in. You know if you feel passionate about something and you think no this is the way it should be and you really believe it should be. Don’t digress from it. Don’t let anyone talk you out of what you believe in, what you read.
Form your own opinions. Don’t get waylaid with multi-media and all the rest. There’s so much stuff out; they are so negative. People do not talk about the positive things that are happening. Go out and look for the positive 'cause that will help you overcome the negatives and never give up.
Sam: If you feel comfortable to do so, please tell me about the scariest, darkest or most challenging moment in your career.
Ranisha: I grew up being bullied and all the rest of it. For me, I learnt - I sound strong, but deep down I’m still quite soft. But I’ve learnt to ignore people and just pick up – I had a situation before I went to Brent, I had a temporary job at a lawyer’s office. When I turned up there, they had me climbing ladders and all the rest of it… so they weren’t paperless!
They actually refused to pay the agency that I came from because they hadn’t notified them of my disability. I’m not registered disabled, so as far as I am concerned I’m not disabled. I didn’t see it as a disability, the agency didn’t see it as a disability. It went to court. They ended up paying out.
It was quite a hard time for me, because it was a bit of a reality check for me because it got me to think it wasn’t just school that I got this negativity and people bullying. It actually happens in your adult life as well. It was a reality check that I’ve got to toughen up.
Sam: What has working in healthcare taught you about people?
Ranisha: They're very different. Very, very different kettle of fish. Health and social care in itself is very different people. There are caring people in both sectors but I feel - see I have my social care hat on and 'cause I’ve tried to work with health and various different things and it’s never worked well and it’s all been issues.
I feel social care is like the poor relative. That’s what it makes me feel like. That you’re there - you’re not that important. But when we want something from you, we want it from you straight away. That’s how social care feels about health. That needs to change.
I did think that when they put the Health and Social Care Information center together I thought, ‘Oh yes we’re going to make a difference now’, ‘cause you had social care in the description. But it was officially announced last week that they were going to be renamed, NHS Digital. So ok, they have taken the social care out of it all together. How are you expecting to be integrated in digital in 2020, when you’re really struggling to get social care on board with anything here?
They’re willing to do it, but you’re asking them to do things without giving them the funding - putting health first. I don’t know how it’s going to – it will work, I’m sure it will, but its things like that, that make you think - hmm really?
Sam: What have you had to work hardest at to be a success in your job?
Ranisha: I think being an Asian woman. Being an Asian woman and having my health issues. I think when people first look at you, they think, ‘is she going to be ok, is she capable - is she going to be able to perform or get things done?’.
So for me, to get over that barrier I think I’ve pushed myself, more - to work harder, to prove myself. Which I really shouldn’t have to. People should just take me for as I am, but that’s made me a stronger person.
I went into the IT department and its male orientated. I was told to go to the Information Security Forum for London for the first time. I walked in and thought it would be fine. There was a room full of 30 people. Out of the 30 people, there were only three women and one of them was me.
I felt like, ‘Oh my God. What am I doing here? Why am I here?’
But no, ‘you can do this’ and I sat there. I still go. I’m still there. and there’s more women there. None of them ever looked at us in a strange way, but it was that, first, ‘why am I here?’.
Sam: I went to high school in the ‘90s and we had all the bumper stickers there ‘Girls can do anything’ and so I was really brought up in that mentality - women can do anything. I find it quite shocking that in 2016 we’re having a conversation where you’re noticing you’re one of three women in a room full of guys.
Ranisha: I even updated my status with that - ‘Oh my God, what am I doing here?’
I think I’m actually really fortunate that my parents forced me and my brothers to educate ourselves. For my Mum, it wasn’t about stay at home, cooking having a family and the rest of it. It was go out there - study hard - make something of yourself, so you don’t have the struggles we had. There were other girls I went to school with, they were never pushed. With them pushing us, I did manage to get through school, through college, though university and now working.
Not once have they ever said - when I had the boys, my Mum was like, ‘I will look after them if you need to go back to work. You need to go back to work, you can’t stay at home. You need to progress your career.’
So I was very, very fortunate that I had parents that pushed me to make something of myself.
Sam: Thank you Ranisha’s parents.
Sam: Looking back across your career to date, what do you hope that the people who have worked with you remember you for?
Ranisha: Fun, happy going, hard working person that I am. I’ve made some very good friends through my career - people I don’t actually work with anymore but are still friends. I don’t think you should do a job if you’re not happy doing it. If you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, get out. Don’t be there just for the sake of the money worth. You need to be able to be passionate and enjoy what you do.
Sam: Has anything come up to the surface for you just after our discussion? Or perhaps you have reflective on something now that you hadn’t a couple weeks or months ago?
Ranisha: Actually what I have realised is that what I am doing is actually impacting – you know its small, it's minute, but there’s big changes coming and I’m going to be a big part of that change, helping to be part of that change. And hoping it will open new doors for me as well. It was a move. I made a bold move. I will see what else is out there for me.
Whatever I do is going to have an impact on my family. I want them to see that Mum’s a strong professional and want to them to think, ‘yeah, we want to do the same’.
Sam: I have absolutely no doubt that your boys will be able to see that so clearly. And you will inspire not just the men in your house in their lives, but so many people around you.
Thank you so very much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure and thank you for inviting me into your home for this session today.
Ranisha: No problem. Thank you.