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Arrhythmia Alliance’s “Outstanding Individual” winner Dr John Bourke retires at the end of an illustrious career of putting patients first

Dr John Bourke (Department of Cardiology, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK), who won the Arrhythmia Alliance Outstanding Individual who has Contributed to Arrhythmia Services award in 2017, is retiring at the end of this year. During his rich and varied career in electrophysiology, Dr Bourke has done extensive work in the fields of ventricular tachycardia ablation and in muscular dystrophy. In this interview, he talks about his career and the importance of involving patients in the development of services.

During your career, what have been the greatest technological developments?

The development of catheter ablation for arrhythmias — this made the need for open heart surgery for life-threatening arrhythmias, such as those related to Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome or those related to ventricular tachycardia, obsolete. Catheter ablation made “cure” possible for most patients with congenital forms of supraventricular tachycardia. As a high success, low risk procedure — ablation transformed the management of these patients, who previously often needed long term, daily antiarrhythmic drug therapy.

What do you think you learnt “on the job” that you could never have learnt from your medical training alone?

The central importance of putting patients at their ease as much as possible and explaining things in ways they can understand.

You are retiring at the end of a year that has seen massive changes to the way that healthcare is delivered. Do you think that any of these changes (e.g. virtual clinics) have been positive and could be adopted longer term?

Clinicians, in my experience, tend to get “comfortable” in their ways of doing things and do not often think of how well long-standing practices may be working for patients. The COVID pandemic has forced innovation in practice in a way that would probably have taken another 10 years otherwise. Virtual clinics are just one example of this. I have been holding virtual clinics since March and most patients seem to find them useful — they find that virtual clinics are much more time efficient than the traditional face-to-face sessions. Roll-out of IT-connectivity and capabilities within the NHS has been another welcome and long-overdue revolution!

In 2017, you won the Arrhythmia Alliance Outstanding Individual who has Contributed to Arrhythmia Services award. What do you think of winning the award?

I was aware — because of attending the Arrhythmia Alliance Heart Rhythm Congress over many years — of the eminent people who had previously received this prestigious award. However, I had never thought of myself as being in the same category as them, and, so, was taken aback when my arrhythmia team colleagues here in Newcastle nominated me. I was speechless but greatly honoured when Arrhythmia Alliance thought fit to present me with the award. 

Arrhythmia Alliance supports people with arrhythmias to know more about their condition and its management. Why is this important?

In my view, healthcare professionals have been slow to appreciate the importance of the “patient voice” in the design and delivery of arrhythmia services. Arrhythmia Alliance has been pivotal in making clinicians aware of what they were missing by not including the views of the patients. Also, the charity has helped to promote the concept that including the views of patients in the reconfiguration of services and development of care pathways is mandatory.

The combination of patient and professional views improves the design of services in a way that professionals could not achieve by working alone.

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