Elizabeth Mitchell obituary

Other lives: Communications specialist for the NHS and the Medical Research Council

My friend and former colleague Elizabeth Mitchell, who has died aged 65 after suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), was a communications specialist for the NHS and the Medical Research Council, whose work on patient and public involvement (PPI) encouraged professionals to listen more to the voices of patients and their carers.

Born in Glasgow to William Dormer, an army officer, and his wife, Mary (nee Downie), a nurse, Liz went to Calder girls’ school in Seascale, Cumbria. She met and married John Mitchell, a merchant seaman, while studying French, economics and geography at Plymouth Polytechnic (now the University of Plymouth).

Following graduation in 1974, she became a production assistant for Westward TV in the late 1970s before emigrating with John to Canada, where she raised their young family. A daughter, Fiona, had Potter’s syndrome and died soon after birth, and that experience helped to shape Liz’s future interest in healthcare.

The family returned to the UK in the late 80s and settled in Cambridge, where Liz took up jobs in communication for the NHS, and then the Medical Research Council in London, where she did pioneering work enabling patients and consumers to influence research.

In the public health department of Cambridge health authority, where I also worked, she was involved in the communication challenges presented by the Child B case, in which a child with leukaemia had a request from her father to have a second bone marrow transplant declined on the grounds of clinical effectiveness and the best interest of the child. She also worked on the public health report Challenging Choices, about setting priorities in the NHS.

More recently, after retiring from the MRC, Liz became the lead governor with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health trust, where she continued to advocate that patients and carers be integral to care planning and delivery; her work was recognised with an NHS Outstanding Contribution to Carers award in 2016.

Her commitment to community engagement led her to join Lode with Longmeadow parish council in east Cambridgeshire, edit the newsletter Lodestar, for the village where she and John lived, and be an international observer of elections in Azerbaijan at the invitation of the British embassy.

Liz was diagnosed with IPF in 2015. She investigated the treatments available and prognosis, and was remarkably brave when discussing her poor life expectancy and the lack of effective drug treatments. Her positive attitude and sense of humour was an inspiration to others. She joined the IPF charity group at Papworth hospital, supported the clinical trials being undertaken there and advocated for presumed consent for organ donation.

She is survived by John, their three children William, Harriet and Nick, and three grandchildren, Bonnita, Paloma and James.

Tony Jewell

The GuardianTramp

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