My Liverpool

Professor Cheng-Hock Toh is the RCP’s academic vice president and the lead officer for RCP at The Spine. Originally from Malaysia, and having lived and worked in Liverpool for over 20 years, here he describes his feelings for Liverpool and its people.

My connection with Liverpool had a surprisingly early beginning. As a schoolboy growing up in Malaysia, most of us were football obsessed and supported English teams, particularly the most successful ones, so naturally I was already a Liverpool supporter at a tender age!

And of course, even over 6,000 miles away, we did not escape the grip of ‘Beatlemania’. I never thought that I would end up spending most of my adult years working and living just a stone’s throw away from Strawberry Fields!

I came to England to study medicine and did most of my junior doctor training in haematology at another great northern English city, Sheffield. I will never be able to forget being on-call on that heart-breaking day of the Hillsborough disaster that affected so many Liverpool supporters. Towards the end of my training, a consultant job in my specialist haematology area of thrombosis and bleeding disorders came up in Liverpool – destiny was calling!

However, my first impression of the city through a forbidding Royal Liverpool University Hospital building on a grey November morning in 1994 wasn’t that great. But before long the inevitable happened – I fell for the people in the haematology department and in Liverpool generally – their warmth, humour, passion and welcoming attitude won me over.

My wife came with me to visit the city and the more we discovered about its cultural heritage, the keener we became to move here – we loved the Tate Liverpool, the many national galleries and museums, and the multicultural feel of Liverpool that included international supermarkets selling products familiar to me from Malaysia. And not forgetting the football!

It all added up: I accepted the role of senior lecturer and honorary consultant in haematology, and my Liverpool citizenship was crowned by the birth of my son a month later!

Not long after I took up my post, something extraordinary happened – Colin Downey, one of my colleagues in the lab, discovered an unusual optical image in patients with sepsis, which led to us researching this and finding a new and significant biomarker. We published papers, filed several patents and set up a spinoff company.

I was not only lucky to be in the right place at the right time then, but in the years that followed, I’ve been really happy living in Liverpool, especially as it became European Capital of Culture. Liverpool will always be the right place for me and I am very proud of building up a centre of excellence. With initial support from the Roald Dahl Foundation, our work in caring for the people of Liverpool was recently recognised at the Health Service Journal Awards.

I suppose I never intended to take up leadership roles in medical societies but got interested in the challenge of harmonising the haematology curriculum across the 27 countries for the European Hematology Association! Some unorthodox thinking was needed and its success led me to apply for a governance role at the British Society for Haematology as I felt the society was a bit of a closed club. It needed shaking up in order to properly represent all haematologists and I am now the society’s president.

When I first heard that the RCP was building a new home in Liverpool, it was the driver for me applying to become the academic vice president. I really wanted to be involved in this project because I believe that the RCP’s presence will not only connect us better with our members and fellows, but also because it gives us the opportunity to use our presence to influence health and healthcare in the north.

We’ll have failed if, once there, we don’t have any impact on pressing health inequality issues. Whatever we do has to be always rooted in what is good for patients and the public, we mustn’t be scared of reaching outside our comfort zone to do so and I am up for it.

Liverpool is a global city with ‘welcome’ embedded in its DNA. It has been good to me and my family and I would like to give something back. In the way that Jurgen Klopp has united the city behind the hopes and desires of Liverpool Football Club’s supporters, we too must capitalise on the fellowship and togetherness that building a new home for the RCP can bring.