Back when I used to work as a copywriter for charities, my colleagues and I used to do a lot of work for the charity Macmillan Cancer Support.
Our role was straightforward enough: to turn sometimes complex and inaccessible cancer information into more simple, more reassuring language that got the messages across the best way we could. We tried to be patient centred, to put ourselves in the shoes of the people reading our words for the first time.
I always admired the organisation, and it was highly regarded in the sector as the act most other charities wanted to follow: people focussed, great information, great services, incredible communications,
Of course, I never expected to be on the receiving end of their work. You never do.
On Thursday, I saw the organisation in action. For the first time as what we, in the charity sector, call a ‘service user’.
This was London’s Macmillan Cancer Centre, part of University College London Hospital and a multi-million pound partnership between the two, with other charitable funders.
One day all hospitals will be like this.
As you walk through the revolving door, you’re greeted by a smiling, clip-board wielding welcomer. She asked me how I could be helped, and directed me to the automatic checkin. Think Ryanair, but without the queues, plastic seats and extra charges for taking a wee. (I lated discovered these welcomers are volunteers).
Once I’d checked in, which I did by scanning the bar code on my letter, I was invited to take a seat in the spacious, beautifully designed modern waiting lobby.
We’re talking comfy chairs. Think Habitat, rather than the bus shelter bench that many hospitals offer. In one corner there’s a Costa Coffee, in another a huge Macmillan Cancer Support Information section.
High above your head there’s a colourful art installation, and large relaxing paintings on the walls. Those walls are modern glass paneling, with toilets and entrances flush against them.
Dotted around the place are screens, every now and again flashing up a patient’s name, directing them where to go next.
Every member of staff was smiling and welcoming, the pace was slow not panicked. This was a place to come and relax before your appointment, not to get anxious and disgruntled that your appointment time has run over.
There was free wifi, and if the receptionist spots you’ve been waiting a particularly long time (or at least they did in one compatriot’s case) they offer to go get you a sandwich or coffee.
Everywhere there’s an air of calm efficiency. There’s even a garden on the roof, and hotel-style rooms for those who have to stay for daily treatment.
From the moment you walk through the door, you get the impression that the charity and hospital have consulted with people who have cancer about every element of what they’ve done: what might reduce their stress, what might provide reassurance, what might make things more comfortable and convenient if you have to visit hospital regularly.
(A glance at the Macmillan Cancer Support website confirms it whole building was designed around consultations with service users.)
When you have multiple hospital visits as a cancer patient, as I now do, you go expecting a wait. That’s part of the deal, and this one was no different.
In fact, the meeting with my oncologist was an hour and forty-five minutes late. That’s the longest I’ve ever waited for a booked appointment. And do you know what?
I didn’t mind a bit.