Mark Britnell, NHS director-general for commissioning and system management, was diagnosed with prostate cancer last autumn. His doctors found the disease at an early stage and, following a prostatectomy, he has made a full recovery.
But he told an event at the King's Fund last week that, as a man who often works 12-hour days, he would likely have brushed concerns about his health to one side had he not been able to make an evening appointment.
'I don't think I would have found out I had cancer unless I had gone to see my GP at 7pm. I benefited from my own policy,' he said.
Mr Britnell praised his GP and the other clinicians who treated him, but criticised elements of the patient experience.
His district nurse, for example, ran out of male incontinence pads, forcing him to use ones less suited to his anatomy.
'The NHS saved my life. My surgeons and GP were all fantastic,' he said. 'But the interplay between primary and secondary care left a lot to be desired, and the district nurse left me with female incontinence pads.'
Following his treatment, Mr Britnell has agreed to take part in a scheme piloting patient reported outcome measures.
The King's Fund debate, entitled 'Regulation and quality: Who calls the shots?', also saw Mr Britnell call for clinicians to take the lead in raising the quality of NHS care.
'Our doctors and nurses are fantastic,' he said. 'But we need a new generation of clinical leads who are less tolerant of failure and want to bear down on poor performance.'
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