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Lewis Khan, Love Time
Photography Lewis Khan

These photos put a face to the crisis threatening the NHS

Nowhere are the harsh realities of life and death more apparent than in hospitals – this series illustrates the deep connection between patients and staff

Fewer things are more certain in the UK than the fact that at one point in your life you will find your life in the hands of the National Health Service (NHS). For most of us, you are born with the help of an NHS nurse, kept healthy by an NHS GP, and for everything from acne, contraception, UTIs and the flu, the NHS are there to assist throughout you through your years.

The possibility of our free health care being taken away is unpopular. So much so that the Leave campaign for Brexit drove a bus covered in NHS promises around the country – and won. The suggestion of pumping £350 million a week into the NHS to prop up our life-saving services swayed many voters. However, it was just one of many falsehoods told by the Leave campaign. Even Bieber has chipped in to try and raise money. Last year, he begged fans to buy a single by the NHS choir rather than his own music in order to get it to the Christmas number one spot

As the service continues to struggle financially (it recently announced it can no longer provide suncream, erectile dysfunction meds or gluten free food) and with an upcoming election, the NHS will become a hot topic of debate again. Many see this as another chance to save the service from the Conservatives mutilating cuts – namely Labour which released new policies to raise staff wages and bring the service back under public ownership. Remember that in 2015 the Tories signed the largest privatisation deal in history, selling off health services to 11 different private firms.

Photographer Lewis Khan set himself the impossible task of illustrating the “intangible” concept of privatisation and damaging reorganisation with his photo series Love Time. He quickly found the more captivating story to put behind the lens beyond the daily affairs of the busy hospital were the powerful relationships between the heroic staff and those who put their lives in their hands.

We spoke to him about Love Time which puts a face to the crisis facing our hospitals, illustrating the fragility of life, and demonstrating how the bravery of patients facing their fate empowers caregivers.

Why did you change your mind about how to approach this series?

Lewis Khan: It’s an intangible thing. It affects lots of people but it’s like ‘yeah, alright, what does that look like in an image?’ You could go down that route of finding places that have been hard hit by privatisation but it all just seems like not really my cup of tea – shooting it like that. I was far more interested in actually getting into human interaction.

Did the people you met make you look at life, and the health service, differently?

Lewis Khan: Actually, I found the hardest thing in there was that I thought it’d be really easy to meet people and see them again. But, it’s so busy and people are in and out of there all the time – it’s hectic. I met one girl a few times and asked to photograph her – she didn’t want her face photographed. She’d been through some bouts of chemotherapy which makes your hair and nails stop growing. When you had these stop-start rounds, white lines appear on your nails. You can actually see how many times people have been through chemotherapy through the marks on their body. Her t-shirt said ‘love time,’ the name of this series. I saw that after I’d taken the picture. On the one hand, it’s love time – you come to the hospital for a bit of care and attention. Alternatively, it’s an order. Love time. Life is really short and you have to appreciate it. She died quite soon after I took the picture, which gave it even more meaning. You have to love time.

“On the one hand, (hospitals are) love time – you go for a bit of care and attention. Alternatively, it’s an order. Love time. Life is really short and you have to appreciate it” – Lewis Khan

I guess being in a hospital constantly means you have to face up to the realities of death, did that give you a sense of the strain of the job?

Lewis Khan: Yeah. I spent a lot of time with this guy, David. I got to know him, hung out with him quite a lot. One day I went there and he was dead. That was really hard, actually. I hadn’t really experienced anything quite as brutal as that. I took a little break from the hospital after that and had to assess things. I was shadowing Mark, a cancer doctor, and it opened my eyes to how tough that line of work is on a mental and emotional level. It sounds stupid but it wasn’t something I’d really considered so obviously before.

I remember seeing Mark for the first time after David had died, going into his office and sitting with him and he was just sitting there didn’t have anything to say. He was just mourning essentially. It actually affects them just as much it affects you and me. It’s a workplace so you hear people talking about holidays and football as a coping mechanism. He was actually worried about me after that he wanted to make sure I was okay, so I guess that’s how he deals with things. Even in his downtime, he’s still thinking about how to make other people feel better.

Is there anything else you didn’t expect to find in relationships between patients and doctors?

Lewis Khan: Obviously, you expect that the patient is gonna go there and get help, gain strength or whatever. The flow of energy will go from the medical professional to the patient. But what I didn’t expect is that it works both ways. You’d go into there, the cancer ward or whatever, and you really see that the staff are completely empowered by the patients.

Doctors are under such stress and pressure that in the downtime when they’re interacting and helping these people, it’s probably just as helpful for the doctors to build relationships and have positive interactions. There were those times, particularly with things like cancer, where it isn’t always clear what to do. In those times, suddenly, you’re stripped of being like doctor and patient. You’re actually just two people sitting in a room on some chairs talking to each other. You really see the value of that – these two people talking to each other, stripped of their title.