Jackie and Kingston’s story

Jackie’s personal health budget pays for her assistance dog Kingston, who helps manage her physical disabilities and emotional wellbeing. He has given her a new lease of life as well as saving the NHS money.

Jackie’s canine partner (assistance dog) Kingston knows just under 200 commands. He can put her clothes on the bed for her, open the front door, fetch her mobile phone and bring her a blanket. He can let himself out into the garden and post a letter. He can take cash out, take things off the shelf at supermarkets, and hand the debit card to the cashier.

Crucially, Kingston also helps to manage Jackie’s physical disabilities, and has already saved the NHS over 60 ambulance trips this year alone. Funded by Jackie’s personal health budget for just £3000 a year, Kingston can alert Jackie to an epileptic seizure 45 minutes before it happens, and predict her hypo and hyperglycaemic attacks. He can sound an alarm, take Jackie her hypo-kit and open the door for paramedics.

The impact that Kingston has had on Jackie’s life has been transformational, and she is now able to manage her health much better, she no longer requires physiotherapy, visits the GP less often and most importantly he has given her a purpose in life.

I’ve got to focus on him, I look after him, and he looks after me- it’s a true partnership.

Rewind three years and things weren’t looking so positive. Following a severe assault sustained whilst on duty as a Met police officer, Jackie found it difficult to adjust to her new life as a disabled person. Like many people, she rebelled against her disability and the wheelchair she was in. Finding that society looked at her differently, she went through periods of depression and non-compliance with medication.

Slowly but surely however, Jackie started to see how others managed with their disabilities, and began to hear about personal health budgets. She got involved in a peer group working with her local clinical commissioning group (CCG) as part of the Integrated Personal Commissioning programme, ensuring that their programme of personalising people’s care has been built upon the principles of coproduction. Now up and running for two years, the group, Realising Change, works closely with the CCG to look at new ways of supporting people with their health and wellbeing.

Jackie has built up a much more positive relationship with the CCG since being involved in this group, and she is glad to have had her experience of getting a personal health budget so that the “next person will have an easier ride”. Having agreed to Jackie’s request for an assistance dog earlier this year, Jackie reflects on how different this is to having carers. With carers “it was very mundane, I wasn’t looking to the future- with Kingston I’ve got a future, and that future is full of life and adventure”.

Having Kingston has also improved Jackie’s relationship with her family, who previously used to worry and regularly checked in to see how she was doing. Jackie says they can see the difference in her since she’s had Kingston, and that she now has something to focus on, even if sometimes they think she is “too independent”!

Personal health budgets are the best thing since sliced bread, because it puts people in the driving seat- you are the master of your own health.

Jackie would like her story to inspire others to consider how assistance dogs can help people manage their health and wellbeing. Importantly, she feels Kingston has helped her to take more responsibility for her own health, and her GP now sees her as the expert in her own care. “Everyone is responsible for the NHS- if everyone takes ownership, then we’ll have an NHS for the future. We should all be thinking, ‘no- I’m not going to the doctor when I don’t need to’.”

Jackie is now looking to the future, and thinking about work, going back to university and other national activities she’d like to get involved in to help influence how the health and social care system work. It’s all about “accepting that I haven’t got to apologise for who I am”.  And to demonstrate her passion, Jackie is planning on doing a bungee jump in South Africa in 2019 to raise money for the charity Canine Partners. She’s hoping to raise £20,000 in total, so that someone else can benefit from fewer hospital admissions, fewer doctor’s visits, and have their lives transformed too.