Comment: The Sherpa’s story and its relevance to public involvement in health research

I am indebted to a good friend and colleague of mine who, some time ago, sent me this BBC News story from last year.  It reports on the rising concerns among Himalayan Sherpas about the lack of regard being shown towards their needs and the environment as scientists tromp all over the local geography.  To the extent that they are threatening to withdraw their labour.

I used it last week for an NIHR talk.  I read out extracts to the assembled post-lunch audience (yes, I care that much about my audience that I don’t like to work them too hard after lunch).  Before I did so, I asked them to substitute every mention of Sherpa with ‘patient’ and every mention of a geographical place with ‘health research’ or ‘NHS.’

I invite you to do the same…It sort of works.  Then ask yourself what would happen if we allowed the same behaviour in health research and what the outcome would be if patients and the public withdrew their labour?  Well, of course, this behaviour does happen all the time and it’s something of a wonder to me that patients don’t object more often.  They should do…and loudly.

Anyway, I like the story and thought I would share it more widely on the blog.  It’s just a different way of getting the message across that public involvement should be a core principle of any health research organisation – funders, journals, Government, universities* blah blah.  For it’s easier to get to the top of ‘Mount Everest’ if patients and researchers work in partnership.  We are also more likely to climb the mountain that matters to ourselves and our fellow human beings if it becomes a joint endeavour.

I mean sometimes I listen to researchers on the radio talking from the top of the mountain they have just climbed and think…what the heck are you looking at from up there?  For what did you climb that tor?  Put your crampons on and get your rope.  I think you’ll Fiennes that the action is over here.

Brief sermon from the mount is now over.  Parting of the oceans will come later when I head into town.

* By the way if you every want a true indicator of how financially troubled our universities are, next time you visit one: count the number of cranes and then count the number of empty rooms, labs etc.  Then do the same every time you go back.  Interesting.

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