Chatting with Tony Blair

By Suzanne Thomas, Education Lead

It was an unexpected surprise on Monday morning when Tony Blair turned up at Connaught Hospital. Like many of the patients who arrive at the hospital he swung in through the main gate – unlike your average patient though, his arrival was led by a convoy of police sirens.

Mr Blair is the founder of the African Governance Initiative (AGI), the reason for his visit to Connaught was to see first hand an example of the Free Healthcare Initiative, which has been a key project for President Koroma’s government.

Accompanied by the Minister for Health and several key officials from the ministry and hospital, he made his way to the paediatric surgical ward where our partners showed him a brief glimpse of the reality of healthcare in Freetown.

While Tony passed us I stood in a small group watching from nearby, intrigued by the scene in front of us.  Perhaps he was a little intrigued by us too, turning around to give us a wave and quick hello.

After he emerged from one of the wards Oliver (our Programme Director) and the Minister for Health chatted casually to Tony and explained the work of King’s Sierra Leone Partnership.

The moment seemed like a good opportunity for the ‘snap’! Jo (our Communications Consultant) was delegated the nerve-wracking task of lining us up for a photo.

It was then my turn to chat with Tony. He asked if I was part of the Partnership. I briefly explained my role with COMAHS which covers curriculum development, teacher training, infrastructure support and developing new healthcare professions training programmes, hoping that what I was saying made some sort of sense!

He then asked ‘What is the biggest challenge of your work here?’ A question like this would normally require a lengthy response. Conscious of all the important people listening for an answer I kept it brief and talked about the strong desire for better training and healthcare but that the limited human resources available results in staff being torn between their training and clinical roles.

The Minister for Health then joined the conversation ‘So it’s about capacity building’. I nodded, appreciating the interest that was being taken in our work.

Our Clinical Lead Ahmed also had his moment with Tony – explaining what he enjoys about his work at Connaught.

After greeting a small group of enthusiastic smiling patients he was off and onto his next meeting followed by a flight to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

I turned back to the office with a smile. You never quite know what’s going to happen next here in Sierra Leone.