Blackpool will always be ‘home’ for health supremo

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The printer would probably run out of paper if you were to ask Ashok Khandelwal to publish his full CV.

A former manager of primary mental health services in Blackpool, clinical director for the then Blackpool Community NHS Trust, a founding member of the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing - these were just a few of his professional roles.

Then there’s his past presidency of Palatine Rotary Club, membership of the Blackpool Faith Forum and he is current chairman of the Fylde Coast Hindu Society.

Not to mention loving husband and father, and now a doting grandfather.

“I believe that you should always do your utmost to contribute to society,” he explains.

It’s fair to say Mr Khandelwal has contributed more than his fair share to the Fylde coast over the years.

As the manager of primary and intermediate mental health services for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust he developed integrated services between health and social care services.

And he has been heralded by his colleagues for maintaining mental health services without need for waiting lists.

As chairman of the Hindu Society he has guided it to being one of the largest groups in the area working for community cohesion.

Now retired, the medic is looking to move away from the area - he has lived in Cleveleys for 35 years - to live closer to his sons.

But the area, and Blackpool in particular, will always be his “hometown” and hold a special place in his heart, he said.

While he has seen dramatic changes in the way mental health services are both delivered and accessed, and the impact all this has on communities, he remains buoyant about Blackpool’s future.

“More and more people are becoming aware of mental health conditions and are trying to get help,” he said.

“Life is getting more complicated. Addiction causes a lot of problems in Blackpool, people move here and don’t have support networks - these are all reasons more people need mental health care.”

“While Blackpool has deteriorated over the years, due to all the problems we know of, it has made me more determined to work with its residents.

“I do have a real affection for the area.

“I’ve spent a large part of my life here, my children were born and raised here so I will always care for it.”

Originally from Nagpur in central India, Mr Khandelwal, 65, married his wife, Maya, 60, in an arranged marriage 37 years ago.

He moved to the UK, to London, in 1976 and his wife followed two years later.

“It was quite a struggle for me to begin with,” he said. “I came here with £3.50 in my pocket.

“But I had sheer determination as well as the love and support of good colleagues, friends and family.”

It was 1980 when they moved up to Blackpool for Mr Khandelwal to head the newly commissioned Parkwood mental health unit at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

He had initially trained as an occupational therapist back in India, after his father instilled in him a strong work ethic, and he later trained in psychiatry.

“It was the right career for me, I like caring,” he said.

He also has a diploma in management and a Masters degree in business administration -

His work in mental health in turn inspired Mrs Khandelwal who, having worked as a teacher in India, volunteered in the sector while her children were growing up, before qualifying as a healthcare assistant in 1994 - aged 39 - and later as a nurse.

The couple have two sons, 35-year-old Amit and Ankur, 31, who is also a doctor, and two grandchildren, a boy and a girl.

“What makes me proud is seeing someone get the help and support for their aspirations to be achieved,” said the father.

“I was able to do that with my own children and now they’re both doing extremely well, but I’ve always wanted to do it with more than just my own children.

“We are so blessed, we have a lovely home and a lovely family, so when you have so much grace, why not share that with others?”

“I did extremely well even though it was a struggle for me when I arrived in London, so I think why can’t everyone do well?” he said.

“I believe that if you have the power to do something, then do something.”

Mr Khandelwal is a strong supporter of Blackpool Boys and Girls Club, regularly visiting to support its mental health work with children.

As president of Palatine Rotary Club from 2014-15 he oversaw donations to a number of charities supporting young people across the area.

His work in the voluntary sector means he now hopes this ‘third sector’ will be seized upon to help Blackpool solve some of its pressing health and social problems.

He said: “Blackpool needs to build strong communities to get over the generations of dysfunctional families.”

The professional said he admires some of the bold schemes adopted by Blackpool Council in recent years to improve health and wellbeing, such as the free breakfasts for primary school children.

Now he hopes the town will continue to take brave steps to fix its problems.

“I sincerely hope Blackpool will be able to turn itself around,” he added.

“We’ve got to move on from people criticising the town.

“Hope is something people must never give up on in this town.”