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Bringing the personal to parliament

31 January 2024

Khalid Mahmood is the UK’s longest serving Asian MP, having represented his Birmingham Perry Barr constituency since 2001. Motivated by his own dialysis and transplant experiences the 62-year-old Labour politician is hugely supportive of our cause. As the parliamentary sponsor for the launch of our new report into chronic kidney disease in England, he spoke to us about why he is passionate about preventing people from experiencing kidney failure, wherever possible. 

Asian man standing in a room in Parliament holding a copy of the CKD England report
Khalid Mahmood

Khalid shares his kidney experience with us

Khalid joins us on a Teams call, fitting the interview into a typically busy week where he splits his time between Westminster and his constituency. Whilst details of his kidney disease were once  largely kept private, today he is open and enthusiastic in sharing an honest account of his experiences to try to help others. It’s nine years since his good friend, former MEP Siôn Simon donated a kidney to Khalid, effectively saving his life, and he is clearly still making the most of this precious gift. 

Khalid’s kidneys were irreversibly damaged in 2008 after a viral infection in his lungs led to both cardiomyopathy (a serious heart condition) and his blood pressure sky rocketing. “I think one of the key things people need to look out for is when you have high blood pressure it does affect your kidneys and sometimes painkillers that you use do too,” he emphasises. 

He was warned his kidneys would continue to deteriorate, and in about ten years they would stop functioning, “Literally ten years to the week they did a check up and kept me in, saying that I’d now have to be put on dialysis,” he recalls. Despite ten years’ advance notice, it was still devastating. 

“I was taken into hospital and for a few days I was completely out of it, then I woke up and was vomiting,” he told us. “Slowly I realised what was happening and it really hit me in a very drastic way. They’d put lines in through my neck to be able to dialyse me. My mum and sisters were coming in to see me and see what was going on. And it was very difficult, trying to comprehend that I was a different person now.” 

The reality of fitting dialysis into a busy life

Determined to carry on with his parliamentary duties, Khalid and his team set about organising his time to fit in dialysing three times a week, face to face constituency and parliamentary meetings (this being prior to online meeting possibilities) and attending the House of Commons to vote. Fortunately, the party whips were supportive and friends rallied round. 

“Thanks to all the people that worked with me, we managed to get through all that,” Khalid remembers. “It was a lot of hard work. Dialysing and then getting off to a meeting isn’t very easy. People will know that when you dialyse sometimes your blood pressure goes low and you go through different phases in terms of your blood flow, so I would need at least an hour and a half to recover – I now know some people need quite a few hours to recover. Then I decided to dialyse at home, which gave me more time to do my work and dialyse. It was pretty exhausting, but I was determined to do what I could.” 

A transplant would offer a far better quality of life. Two people wanted to donate to help Khalid, but weren’t able to because of their own health issues. “The third person who literally forced his kidney on me was a very good friend, Siôn Simon, who was an MEP at the time,” he says.  

An act of kindness

It’s at this point in the interview that Khalid chokes up. So talkative up to now, he is almost lost for words to describe how he felt about Siôn’s act of kindness.  

“He was really unbelievable,” he says. “He just literally said ‘I want to do it for you.’ He said ‘If you don’t want to do it, give me your consultant’s number and I’ll sort it out myself’.  

“Luckily, he was a very fit person, his kidney was brilliant, he was on no medication at all prior to that, not even paracetamol, which really surprised the doctors.” 

Siôn got ‘the full roasting’ of psychotherapy to ensure he was in the best place mentally and emotionally to donate. “And I had to be prepared too, the transplants don’t always work,” says Khalid. “I was very lucky that it did, and Siôn was brilliant throughout that.” 

Nine years on, Khalid’s friendship with Siôn is stronger than ever and his kidney is faring well. Under the watchful eye of his wife (to whom he is also profoundly grateful), he takes good care of his diet, drinks plenty of water and continues his crucial lifelong adherence to his immunosuppressant regime. Khalid is very aware his could have been a different story and feels his experiences have brought him increased empathy, improving his work as an MP. 

“I think if the transplant had not come through it would have been a different game,” he acknowledges. “I would have gradually got weaker. Going on dialysis is not necessarily the easiest thing to do. You have blood pressure drops which can cause you quite considerable health anxiety as well. I often fell over. You have to realise how vulnerable you are. It was difficult after all that period of being on dialysis just trying to climb steps and do those sort of things. I realised how difficult it is for disabled people who are not supported properly. You have to recognise that a lot of people have to deal with these things every day of their lives.” 

Helping to get kidney disease prioritised

Today, Khalid is keen that kidney disease is better prioritised. Everyone can do their bit, he says, including by keeping family informed of their wishes around organ donation. 

He’s also highly aware how improved, earlier diagnosis and better monitoring could stop more people from descending into kidney failure. He’s anxious that access to GPs and the right clinics is addressed, and is looking to set up a preventative health hub to tackle kidney disease and other conditions, in his own area. He fully supports the recommendations from our new report Chronic kidney disease and the prevention agenda, including targeted testing for CKD in ‘at-risk’ patients, upskilling more primary care practitioners on kidney disease, diagnosis and treatment and more investment in research. 

“Research is the key to everything,” he says. “The cost of research is much less than actually dealing with people once they’ve ended up with kidney failure. So I would certainly urge any government to look at much more research to provide a better way forward for people with kidney disease.” 

Time is now up for our interview and Khalid is dashing off to his next appointment, forever grateful to his friend, his family, colleagues and modern science for his second chance at making a difference. 

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