"He could and should have been saved" - Doctor who dedicated his life to the NHS was let down when he most needed it, says son
Professor Kailash Chand OBE devoted much of his working life to the NHS.
His death on July 26 sparked an outpouring of tributes which painted the portrait of a remarkable man and 'fearless defender' of the public health service whose work had benefited thousands.
So it is the cruellest of ironies that, in his final hours, the former Tameside GP might have been failed by the organisation he so dearly loved, fought for, and believed in.
His grieving son Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist, says the responsibility for an NHS he describes as simply ‘broken’, lies solely at the door of the Government, and its failure to heed years of warning signs.
But having learnt from his father the powerful art of ‘speaking truth to power’ Dr Malhotra is determined to continue Prof Chand’s legacy of fighting for its future.
The Manchester Evening News has, over recent months, reported frequently on the huge pressures on the North West Ambulance Service, and the health service as a whole - largely thanks to the efforts of NHS whistleblowers and staff.
Dr Malhotra, who warns the NHS is 'broken', is calling on the Government to urgently tackle a health crisis caused by the power of big corporations flogging processed foods, unhealthy diets and the over-prescription of drugs.
Now, Dr Malhotra, who is based in London, has described to the Manchester Evening News the heartbreaking moment he saw his dad pass on Facetime - after waiting ‘more than 30 minutes’ for an ambulance.
“I could see the cardiac monitor. He was gone. There was nothing there,” he recalls.
“I’ve been a team leader for cardiac arrest in hospitals, I know when to stop. I told them to stop but they carried on for half an hour. I just said leave him, he’s gone.
“There was shock initially, then I put the phone down and I screamed louder than I knew I was capable of screaming. Then I just cried for several minutes. Then I got the train to my dad’s flat.”
An hour earlier, at around 5pm, Prof Chand, formerly an Ashton GP and deputy chair of the British Medical Association, had called his son to complain of ‘chest discomfort’.
Advising his dad to go to hospital, Dr Malhotra, who grew up in the family home in Stalybridge and completed his first training post at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, says his dad was worried about ‘bothering’ the ambulance service.
He said: “My dad would always call me for health stuff but I was concerned about this because it sounded like a cardiac problem, the heaviness, the shoulder pain, he was sweaty and his blood pressure had gone through the roof.”
As Dr Malhotra prepared to travel up to Manchester, he called his father back, and the phone was answered by Prof Chand’s neighbours, one of whom is a consultant anaesthetist at Manchester Royal Infirmary,
“They said he was in cardiac arrest, they were doing CPR and an ambulance was on its way. I stayed on the line.”
According to North West Ambulance Service records, the 111 call was ‘received’ at 5.45pm with a crew on scene by 5.54pm, entering the flat 6.04pm.
But Prof Chand’s family claim it actually took 30 minutes for the ambulance to arrive from when the call handler was told he was in cardiac arrest.
Dr Malhotra, who has performed countless keyhole heart surgeries and has campaigned to have defibrillators in public places, says he went into ‘cardiology mode’ -and initially felt confident his dad would survive.
“I was shocked but took control. The neighbours were panic stricken but I said we’re lucky you are there, the ambulance will be there soon, they will shock him out of it.
“I was actually confident because I had witnessed cardiac arrest, there were fully trained doctors there, an ambulance had been called.
“I thought ‘this is lucky for dad because if he’d been on his own he’d have had no chance. But he was fit and healthy. A few weeks before we’d climbed to the top of a hill in Stalybridge.
“I understand the chain of survival, that to improve survival chances outside hospital after cardiac arrest you get the defibrillator there as quickly as possible. I thought the ambulance would turn up in 10 minutes.”
But as the minutes passed, Dr Malhotra knew so too had the chances of his dad’s survival.
He said: “I was getting frustrated initially. I was saying where’s the ambulance, I started swearing down the phone."
When the ambulance did arrive Dr Malhotra was ‘losing hope’.
Despite paramedics’ efforts, Prof Chand was declared dead at 6.46pm.
Dr Malhotra said: “I was on Facetime through the whole thing. It doesn’t make sense and that’s why I’ve made an official complaint. Hopefully an investigation will determine the truth.”
“I’m just taking every day as it comes. But the pain is compounded by the knowing he could have and should have almost certainly been saved and all the injustice that goes with that.”
But Dr Malhotra believes this tragic incident is a symptom of a deeper malignancy at the heart of the health service.
“These are unprecedented times when it comes to emergency response - and once emergency response is failing that’s a clear symptom of a broken NHS. It’s not at breaking point, it’s not under pressure.
“It’s completely broken. We need to accept and acknowledge that, understand why - and do something to fix it.”
He added: “Last time I saw my dad we’d had a conversation about how the NHS has to take a look at a huge culture of silencing whistleblowers. That seems ironic now.
“Dad taught me to always speak truth to power. Silence, in a way, is becoming complicit.
“I want something to come out of his death, to make people aware and make change happen.”
“He added: “I think I personally will hold this Government directly responsible for his death and indirectly responsible for getting into a situation where ambulance crews are not capable of meeting patients in a timely fashion.
“I know why - the Government has done nothing to address it for 10 years. And the public should know that too.”
“Even with this information about my dad’s ambulance someone senior in the NHS told me not to speak out, that I’d make more enemies.”
Dr Malhotra says increasing demand on the NHS is driven primarily by ‘diet-related disease and overprescription of drugs’, with poor diet responsible for 11m deaths a year - more than smoking and alcohol combined.
The root of the problem, he argues, is the ‘very powerful food and pharmaceutical’ industries driving an increase in heart disease, diabetes and poor health.
He added: “We’ve been campaigning on this for 10 years but the Government has not been listening. I think because of the ignorance among very senior people in the Department of Health.”
He says there has been too much commercial influence on decision-making, leading to biased and ‘commercially corrupted’ decisions which are damaging to people’s health.
“We are incredibly losing our access to the truth and we are increasingly dividing and losing our capacity for empathy. This is a recipe for a mental and physical health crisis and that’s exactly what we’ve got.”
Dr Malhotra has now been appointed chair of a charity called the Public Health Collaboration. Made up of 200 healthcare professionals, doctors, nurses and dieticians, as well as 300 members of the public including patients, it’s funded solely by the public for the public to push forward public health and fight for changes in the law.
He added: “Two hundred years ago businesses could only operate if they were producing something beneficial to society. We’ve gone from there to a situation where big corporations can advertise products that are damaging and detrimental to health. We have to address the commercial drivers of disease.”
He says Covid deaths, too, could have been avoided with healthier lifestyles and stricter regulation of ultra processed foods in the same way that cigarettes have been regulated.
He added: “I’m a practising cardiologist, I’ve reversed type 2 diabetes in patients in a few months through them changing their diet, cutting out processed and starcy foods. The science is there but there is opposition from powerful vested interests that profit from misinformation.
“Covid has highlighted we are all vulnerable to poor health, even Boris Johnson. We are all affected by worsening mental and physical health.”
Healthy foods, he argues, need to be affordable to everyone - and that one solution would be to combat tax avoidance in large corporations, adding: “We’ve got a situation where very rich and powerful companies are stealing from the poor.”
It is a brave path - and for Dr Malhotra, now potentially a lonely one.
Dr Malhotra, whose older brother died aged 13 from a virus which attacked his heart, and whose mother Anisha Malhotra, also a GP, sadly passed in 2018 aged 68 following a heart attack, says he is now alone apart from extended family and friends.
He added: “My mum also suffered from a lack of resources and staffing and didn’t get the best possible care.
“My dad was my last surviving member of my immediate family and I’m single so I don’t have any other direct family to support. I have lots of extended family but they are abroad so for me on an emotional level it’s particularly hard.
“But my dad inspired me, both my parents did, with their unconditional love and support and guidance.
“They have given me the strength and wisdom to meet this difficult time, this challenge, and carry on with the campaign to continue my father’s levacy to protect the NHS and core values, and improve public health.
“I will use all my knowledge and my role to fulfil those aspirations.”
Kailash Chand was named on the list of the Health Service Journal's top 50 healthcare pioneers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
He was also one of the only Asian doctors to make it on to a ‘power list’ put together by the GG2 Leadership Awards which celebrate high achievers from those communities.
Prof Chand had since retired from his job as GP in Ashton, and also worked as deputy chairman of the British Medical Association.
He was honoured an OBE in 2010 for his services to healthcare.
The doctor was born and brought up in India before moving to Britain in 1978.
Dr Malhotra added: “Dad not just an amazing and wonderful father, he was my best friend. We shared so much, whether it was our intellectual discussion about politics, health, our mutual enjoyment of sport, watching movies together.
“We were very very close and since I left home and to uni we would speak three to four times a day.”
Dr Malhotra, who is on sabbatical from his hospital work as a cardiologist to finish his third book, added: “As a human and in the public eye he was known as a staunch campaigner and representative who was never afraid of speaking truth to power.
“He had real integrity with everything he did as a doctor but also I would say he was exactly that as a human being too, in a way that touched people’s lives on a personal level.
“He had the rare attributes of being very wise, extremely smart but also kind and compassionate, combined with courage.
“Andy Burnham described him as one of the kindest souls to have ever walked the planet. I was very lucky and fortunate to have him as my father and he was my guiding influence as well.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:
“This is an incredibly sad case and our deepest sympathies go out to Dr Aseem and his family.
“We are committed to supporting ambulance crews who work tirelessly responding to emergencies every day and there are hundreds of new ambulances on the roads across the country thanks to our investments.
“We will continue to ensure the NHS has what it needs, including through our new Health and Social Care lev, which will see £36bn go towards health and social care services across the UK.”
A North West Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We offer our sincere condolences to Dr Malhotra and his family and can confirm that we have received a formal complaint from him. We are investigating the incident and will liaise with the family to discuss the matter further."