Notable Alumni - Gary Bassett

Gary Bassett
Social Sciences, 1992

Robert Humphreys

Gary Bassett’s career has been underpinned by a strong belief in equality and fair treatment for all. In his current role as Head of Patient Experience for the London Ambulance Service, he is responsible for improving the experience of everyone that comes into contact with the service. Now the innovative ways of working developed by Gary and his team are helping to shape practice across the whole country. 

Gary admits that before he made the decision to get back into education at the end of the 1980s, he didn’t have a great deal of direction. ‘I was about 30 when I came to South Bank,’ he says. ‘That’s mature in years, but I wasn’t mature as a person. I was misbehaving a bit, travelling and doing whatever jobs came up. But I always felt like I’d missed out on my education.’

Following an A-level in Sociology, ‘to get me back in the swing of it’, Gary enrolled at South Bank. ‘It was amazing,’ he says. ‘The University was so supportive, and the tutors were really at the top of their game. I loved the diversity, studying alongside people from so many different backgrounds. It challenged me, too – I had to re-examine a lot of my assumptions. The critical and analytical skills I learned set me up for the rest of my life.’ 

From South Bank, Gary got a job managing an advice centre in Westminster before moving  to Southwark Council, where he developed a welfare rights support system for community care users. He also helped to change the law so that young people coming out of foster care could claim benefits. ‘That’s my claim to fame!’ he says. ‘It’s still there in the reference books. I’m very proud of my role in that reform.’ 

He then moved into health, at the office of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, before joining the London Ambulance Service in 2002. The role as Head of Patient Experience is all consuming. ‘You have to be ready to respond at any time,’ he says. ‘It takes a huge amount of time and energy, but I love having the opportunity to do something like this that really gets under your skin.’

Identifying and implementing learning from complaints is a major part of the role, and is once again high on the agenda following the recent scandal at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust. The subsequent enquiry report set out recommendations which Gary believes reflect the way his service has been working for a number of years. ‘We strive to be open, honest and proactive. In our culture, if you know something’s gone wrong, you go and tell the patient, you don’t wait for them to find out some other way. It may sound counter-intuitive, but we encourage people to complain. Every complaint is a learning opportunity.’  

Gary and his team continually look for ways to improve the service, from recommending changes to the 999 triage system to the licence provider in the USA to changing their maternity kits to include the right kind of clothing for new-born babies. They have also set up a dedicated unit to help some of their most vulnerable patients – those with complex health needs and, often, mental health and addiction issues who may call 999 upwards of 30 times every month. 

‘Trying to help those people was putting a huge strain on our resources,’ Gary says. ‘Now we try to put in place a detailed plan for each individual. Say someone with mental illness stops taking their medication. We know from experience that they’re going to call an ambulance. Now the call handler will be alerted, and the care plan will kick in. That might direct them to their GP, a social worker, or another service. It saves us sending out an ambulance which we can send to someone else, but it also means that person is getting the care they need.’ The practice is now due to be rolled out to all ambulance services in England and Wales. 

Outside work, Gary still finds time to work with Full Circle, a south London charity that supports children who’re excluded from school, encouraging them to regain their confidence and get some qualifications. ‘Full Circle is close to my heart because I know from my own experience how important is it to have that opportunity to learn,’ says Gary. ‘I just wish education was as accessible now. My message would be, it’s always possible. And however competitive the job market, you’ll always have an advantage if you’ve got a degree. Don’t just focus on your subject – hone those core skills. If you understand technology, if you can communicate and work as part of a team, you’ll always have a head start.’

© London South Bank University 2018