VOLUNTEERING is in the blood, says Jacquie Pearce-Gervis, founder of Oxford’s Patient Voice group.

“My grandfather drove ambulances in the blitz and my father volunteered in an orphanage when he was stationed in India,” she explains.

“Both my mother and sister worked in the YMCA and one of my earliest memories is sitting in the church hall at Botley, watching my mother running a foot clinic for the elderly, so it’s something my family has always done.”

Now in her 70s the former Radcliffe Infirmary typist from Botley still spends her time helping out good causes in Oxfordshire, from volunteering at Radio Cherwell based on the Churchill Hospital site, to raising funds for Medical Detection Dogs, as well as her most famous job as the head of Oxfordshire's citizens health watchdog – Patient Voice.

Since it formed 10 years ago, the group has helped to drive change and improvement at the county’s largest NHS trust by ensuring patients have an outlet other than the trust to raise concerns over hospital care.

The group now holds regular meetings with the chief nurse at Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) to discuss issues such the long-running parking problems at the John Radcliffe, as well as raising concerns over the hospital complaints procedure.

Patient Voice was born of a lack of representation for patients at Oxfordshire’s main hospitals like the John Radcliffe, according to Mrs Pearce-Gervis, helping to hold the trust to account.

In 2008 the old Patient and Public Participation Forums were replaced by Local Involvement Networks (LINKs) which, although similar in structure had greatly reduced powers.

Mrs Pearce Gervis said: “We felt there was no representation on for patients attending the Oxfordshire acute hospitals, so we set up our own group, calling it Patient Voice.”

“We have all been, or are, patients of the OUH.

“Between us we belong to a wide range of associations and groups so we hear, at grass roots level, the experiences of patients.

“We are conscious that some patients are reluctant to comment on aspects of their care for fear of being labelled and, as patients ourselves, we would feel the same.

“When suggestions are made, they are acknowledged but often not acted on.

“However, we are now meeting with the chief nurse on a regular basis and hope that we will, at last, be listened to and action taken on what we are being told by patients.

“It has been our experience that hospital staff are very defensive of criticism and suggestions – the old adage ‘doctor knows best’?

“But we only want the best for patients.”

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Her passion for healthcare started during her first role as a shorthand typist at the old Radcliffe Infirmary in 1958.

Despite it being her first step on the career ladder, the then 18-year-old showed a knack for negotiating when she managed to bargain her starting salary up from £295 a year to £323 – a skill which she admits has come in handy when trying to prompt improvements for patients.

Mrs Pearce-Gervis stayed in the role for nearly two decades before moving into teaching and further education in the late 1970s when her volunteering began in earnest.

“After becoming a teacher, I missed the medical world and found myself volunteering in the [John Radcliffe] League of Friends in the holidays.

“The opportunity arose to run courses for doctors, practice managers and receptionists which I jumped at.

“Computers were just coming in and I remember the first course was called ‘Chips with Everything’ – it was a sell-out and by the time I retired I had organised almost 1,000 courses on a variety of topics across the south of England.”

After retiring, Mrs Pearce-Gervis began volunteering in the tea bars and on the wards at the Radcliffe Infirmary, the John Radcliffe maternity and at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre.

As well as the NHS, it is the RAF and animals that continue to inspire Mrs Pearce-Gervis in her volunteering work.

Her father, Lieutenant Leslie Pearce-Gervis, served with the RAF’s Bomber Command in the Second World War and years earlier had flown the first ever air mail flight in 1919.

Speaking on the 100th anniversary of the inaugural air mail flight earlier this year she said: “He had signed up for the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War but lied about his age and was soon found out.

“They didn’t know what to do with him so he was sent to Lincoln College in Oxford to study.

“He would pass the time by flying and performing stunts over Port Meadow.

“He loved his time in Oxford so he brought the whole family back in the 1950s and I’ve lived in Botley ever since.”

She continues to support the armed forces charities, particularly the RAF as well as a host of animal charities.

She said: “I really just enjoy getting involved.

“My other forays into volunteering include Oxtalk (Talking News), a member of the Health & Social Care panel, local politics and local community work.

“Dogs have also been an important part of my life for many years (Jimmy is my latest) and I support local animal sanctuaries, such as the Donkey Sanctuaries and Cairn Rescue.

“Life is never boring!”