Betty Harris and June Street, OBE: lifelong health campaigners

Everyday Extraordinary Betty Harris (88) chairs Dacorum Hospital Action Group, is an Age UK Dacorum trustee and volunteer and a retired teacher.

June Street, OBE (82) volunteer and ex-CEO of  Community Action Dacorum, is a founding member of Age UK Dacorum.

Find out what happened when these indomitable healthcare campaigners were invited to tea at Buckingham Palace, and what their extensive experience has taught them about learning to look after our health.

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June – thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. We met at Her Majesty the Queen’s garden party to which we were invited as charity volunteers. Betty explained that she was planning to lobby Her Majesty concerning your hospital campaign. Can you tell me a little more about that please?

We were invited to the Queen’s  90th Birthday Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. They were there  to represent the local Clinical Commissioning Group’ s activity in engaging residents to in “have a voice” in the local reorganization of the NHS. Betty’s main intention on this occasion was to try and catch the Queen’s eye, or  Prince Charles’ to ask them to ‘gift’ Dacorum  with a piece of land which we know to be owned by one of them , to build a ‘state-of-the-art’ hospital for West Hertfordshire.

Betty a ‘little lady’ with an engaging  mischievous smile to match her  sparkling green eyes, was determined to make every attempt to catch the eye of the Queen or Prince Charles,  as he too owns  local land with which he could quite easily gift Dacorum to build a superb hospital.

With some ducking and dodging, Betty with me (June)  shadowing  firstly Her Majesty, then each Royal as they progressed around  the garden, managed to get to the front  where our Queen and entourage had stopped.  Alas despite Betty being small in stature, whilst I gave her cover….it was not to be – the Queen’s staff being diligent in their protection of all the Royal family present. However both of us repeated our request in their letter of thanks to Her Majesty.

You both have long experience of supporting our health and social care services. What problems do you feel we are facing in these services and what do you think we need in the UK to improve these?

Despite the ambitions of the NHS, central government and e local authority social care, we both feel strongly that Care in the Community is certainly never going to work 100%. As a retired Herts County Council Home Care Officer of the 1970’s I succeeded in part, in providing 24-hour care using home helps on an enhanced rate of pay. As it was a free service on a pilot scheme it was successful in the short term and I had training lined up for these new workers which were called Domiciliary Care Workers.

In your lifetimes you will have witnessed enormous change and development. What advice would you offer to younger people trying to make their way in life?

Following the two World Wars of course we were short of younger people whilst the older population was rapidly growing and needing extra care when they reached a certain age. Of course now with the technology improving so much in the NHS we are thankfully able to live longer and care for ourselves for longer. And yes it is important that we look for alternative ways of caring for our older people. There are insufficient Care and Nursing Homes. Good ones are hard to access and staff are hard to find. Private Home care schemes now have waiting lists, so the new idea of care in the community will not work if the staff is not available.

I think we should start to educate our young teenagers to care for themselves and their parents too, and grandparents.  There should be a special college course ‘Cradle to Grave’.  I have written to Lord Laming, who used to be a Director of Social Services, to see if he can rouse some interest with the House of Lords  – in the Corridors of power – in investigating the education curriculum.

So what next for you invincible ladies?

What next? Well should I survive for a few years, which I hope I can and will do, I will pursue the theme of increasing the content of current Health and Social Care courses  and introducing adequate pay scales and a career structure.  Betty I am sure will continue to protest at every meeting that there “will not  be enough people  who would wish to follow a  career in social and health care” so therefore we must have some long term beds to ensure older people get the right care when they are discharged to their own home .

We do appreciate this opportunity to set out our ‘stalls’ for the future. If we don’t get some support then I fear that many older people will suffer dreadfully. Both of us are working in different spheres at the moment, Betty still pursuing the ideal response of a central well-equipped hospital  and me trying to speak to people who can have some influence in recruitment of people who can eventually lead a career in ‘From Cradle to Grave’ for Home Carers, and staff of residential social and and health care.

Thank you very much for doing this interview and best of luck with your campaigning!

 

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