Tribute to Nicola Kirk, a true pioneer of personal health budgets

January 15, 2018

A beautiful tribute to Nicola Kirk, written by Jo Fitzgerald at People Hub and published in the Guardian.

My friend Nicola Kirk (nee Darby), who has died aged 41 of cancer, may not have been a politician or a medical professional, but she was nevertheless a true pioneer in public services.



When her husband, Stephen, had an accident in 2008 that left him completely paralysed from the neck down, life was turned upside down for Nicola, Stephen and their baby daughter.


NHS acute care services proved to be excellent, but the transition from hospital to home became Stephen's darkest period. While free NHS care at home sounded good, the service he received was unreliable and perfunctory.


By chance, the NHS in their area had joined a new initiative run by the charity In Control. Nicola and Stephen became one of the first families in England to have a personal health budget. This meant being able to handpick their own team of personal assistants.


The family were now able to train Stephen's carers to be competent and confident, so they could lead a more ordinary life. Stephen could spend time on the beach in Cornwall and they could take a family holiday to Spain.


Other people might have settled for that, but not Nicola. She travelled the length and breadth of the country explaining to health professionals, government ministers and NHS bosses why having choice and control is so important to people using healthcare services.


My son is cared for at home under the same scheme, and I fully understand why Nicola wanted to share her story. For her family and ours, the experience has been life-changing. She was always brilliant in front of the most apathetic or hostile audience, able to engage with them without alienating them.


Born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, Nicola was the second daughter of Tony and Mary Darby, both teachers. She attended Kesteven and Grantham girls' school and took a degree in international relations at Nottingham Trent University.


Nicola then worked for a range of companies, undertaking postgraduate qualifications and gaining extensive senior management experience before becoming a retail and customer service executive.


When she realised that there were very few organisations offering flexible care packages, she set up her own company, Solo Support Services, in 2010.


Nicola forged ahead with her work despite being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. She continued to speak in public and to advise other families until her death.


She is survived by Stephen, her daughter, Kiki-Rose, her step-daughters, Gabriella and Theodora, her sister, Clare, and her parents.


You can also read this in the Guardian.