Claire Rayner - The Great Campaigner


Who doesn't have a view about the UK's National Health Service (NHS) ? From politicians and quangos, to barber shops and taxi drivers, it seems everyone has a few words to say about this extraordinary institution, often from personal experience (both good and bad).

Yet, to talk about it is one thing, but to actively campaign to improve its healthcare, year after year, is something else. Claire Rayner may have been best known to the British public as a straight-talking 'agony aunt' in the popular press, often with more than a little controversy in her views over the years.

But her lasting legacy will more likely be the passion and commitment she had for patients' rights and her belief that individual care was at the core of health management. This may have stemmed from her own training as a nurse in the 1950s, from a time when the ward was more under their control than that of management consultants. This is not to say that today's NHS does not have its failings (see Dr Peter Davies' brutal book from last year "Putting Patients' Last" for a grim assessment). Instead, it points simply to the nature of Claire Rayner, not least during her role as President of the Patients Association, for seeking to make healthcare information and understanding accessible to all, and putting patients in charge of their own destiny through a proper dialogue with health professionals.

In her tribute this week, Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association said simply: "She cared deeply that the voice of the patient should be heard, and worked tirelessly to ensure patient care issues were given prominence.  She was a wonderful person, an inspiration to us all and she will be much missed by everyone."