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Trustee with a golden heart

06 November 2023

Professor Sunil Bhandari has committed his life’s work to helping people with kidney disease – as a kidney researcher, general kidney and transplant physician, medical educator and (until last summer) trustee for Kidney Research UK.

As a consultant in nephrology and honorary Professor at Hull York Medical School and Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, a major part of his work has involved teaching others. But he will remember his six years at the charity’s helm for what he learned.

Thoughts on being a trustee

“It was a fantastic experience. I learned a lot from so many people – especially from my fellow trustees,” says Sunil.

“I got to work with and hear from colleagues who had received kidney transplants or had experience of dialysis, and actually see them outside of their illness. That was huge for me because it was very different from the relationship you have when you’re involved in a person’s treatment. I also got to work with and learn from colleagues from the finance world, as well as other medics, academics and scientists.

“Initially, it was a steep learning curve, realising the huge responsibility on you as a trustee. But the charity was really supportive and sent me on various courses on governance, trustee responsibilities and finance management. I was very impressed.”

Professor Sunil Bhandari in his hospital blue scrubs with stethoscope around his neck
Professor Sunil Bhandari, a nephrology consultant

Relationship with charity spans decades

Sunil is also a vice president for the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh and co-chair of the UK Kidney Research Consortium – the body which brings together the research network and clinical study group leads and offers strategic direction to the kidney research community to ensure we tackle important research questions as a nation.

His tenure as trustee for Kidney Research UK ended in August 2023, but his ongoing relationship with the charity has spanned decades.

“My PhD was funded by the charity so becoming a trustee was my way of giving something back,” says Sunil, whose research interests centre around kidney anaemia, chronic kidney disease progression and the effects of iron therapy on heart and kidney function.

“It’s been wonderful to see the sheer diversity of research projects that the charity is now funding and to be a part of the phenomenal work that the charity is doing. I was chair of the NURTuRE committee – which oversaw the project to develop the first kidney biobank covering England, Scotland and Wales. And this is now growing from strength to strength with the interaction with industry.

“That’s one of the major strengths of the charity – its creativity and its resilience. I really saw this during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. It had a huge financial impact on the charity but the charity decided to focus on Covid because it was having such a devastating effect on kidney patients. I became a ‘pseudo’ Covid doctor during the pandemic, attended and contributed to government, local and national advisory boards and did some videos for the charity to really stress the importance of vaccination. During this period, I was privileged to be nominated for the Pride of Newcastle University COVID-19 Heroes Award in 2021 (where I studied my Master’s in clinical education).

“I’m also really proud of the charity’s recent work highlighting mental health in kidney disease as well as the economic impact of kidney disease. Mental health is an area that’s been overlooked quite a bit in kidney medicine and the current model of care needs to be urgently improved. Kidney disease is now a public health emergency but kidney medicine isn’t getting the funding it deserves and that needs to be put in front of government. Kidney Research UK is working very hard to try to influence government for the benefit of patients and it has the strength of the patient group behind it.”

Collaboration is key to combating kidney disease

Sunil believes the charity’s desire and ability to collaborate is a key weapon in its arsenal against kidney disease.

“One great thing we’ve got is that very strong interaction with the UK Kidney Association – the multidisciplinary body made up of physicians, dieticians, pharmacists, physiotherapists and nurses amongst others. I think that link is really pivotal to the success of the charity because it means we’re all on the same page,” says Sunil.

“Similarly, the charity’s work to forge closer links with diabetes and cardiology is absolutely the right thing to do. Kidney patients don’t die of kidney disease – they die of heart disease and almost 40 per cent of kidney patients have diabetes.

“There’s such an overlap in what we do – especially with some of the new kidney drugs that are coming in, which are also being used to treat diabetes and heart disease – so we really need to think as one.

“It’s a tough one, especially as Kidney Research UK is relatively small compared to the diabetes and heart charities – but it’s doing all the right things to expand those conversations.”

Family picture of dad, wife and two daughters standing in the garden wearing smart clothes and dresses
Sunil and his family. Left to right Alisha, Sunil, Elizabeth and Sara

Recognition for his dedication

Sunil recently received a Golden Hearts Lifetime Achievement award for his incredible work in medicine.

Presented by Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and nominated by his colleagues and staff, Sunil was honoured for committing his life’s work to improving services for the benefit of patients and staff and for his dedication to nurturing future healthcare professionals.

Immensely proud of the accolade, Sunil was unable to attend the award ceremony as it coincided with his eldest daughter (now a junior doctor) Sara Bhandari’s graduation from the University of Edinburgh – where he also studied medicine.

“It was a huge honour to receive the award, after having been with the NHS and helping kidney patients for over 30 years. As with all nephrologists, my ultimate aim is to help find a way to prevent kidney disease before it starts – the end game is to get me out of a job!”

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