A CAREERS guidance teacher once told Kirsty Colquhoun she ‘probably shouldn’t be a doctor’.

“When you’re a teenager with a disability, some people think you just can’t do stuff,” says the 38-year-old consultant geriatrician, grimly.

“But no-one should feel that way.

“Those are the myths and barriers we need to break down.”

Glasgow Times: Dr Kirsty Colquhoun, consultant geriatrician pictured at Glasgow Royal infirmary. Dr Colquhoun has cerebral palsy. Wed 6 Oct is World cerebral palsy day...Photograph by Colin Mearns.4 October 2021.For GT, see interview by Ann Fotheringham.

Kirsty, from Finnieston, is sharing her story on today’s World Cerebral Palsy Day (October 6) to help raise awareness.

Around 150 babies are born with CP in Scotland each year, and it affects 17 million people worldwide. Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term for a range of conditions, which affect a person’s ability to control their movement, posture and balance. Muscles can be tight, stiff or floppy. Mobility can be affected, and one in three children with CP are unable to walk.

Glasgow Times: World Cerebral Palsy Day is October 6

“I was born 10 weeks premature with spastic diplegia, which affects my lower limbs, and I had lots of health issues growing up,” says Kirsty.

“I needed splints on my legs when I was a child, and I spent a lot of time in Yorkhill, as the children’s hospital was called then and needed surgery and lots of physiotherapy.

“I definitely think that’s what inspired me to do medicine.”

Glasgow Times: Kirsty in leg splints.

She adds: “It’s difficult growing up with a disability, being different. But at the hospital, I was treated so well by people – not just the doctors, but the nurses, the physios, everyone, all working really hard to help you be the best you can be. That definitely had an impact on me.”

Kirsty graduated from the University of Glasgow Medical School in 2006, having also completed a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacololgy. She is a consultant geriatrician in Greater Glasgow and Clyde working in Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Gartnavel General Hospital and the Beatson.

Glasgow Times: Kirsty after her open water swim

“I was interested in hospital medicine and spent a week with a geriatrician in Stobhill during my training, and loved it,” she explains.

“I’m particularly interested in onco-geriatrics, developing cancer services older adults.”

In 2016, Kirsty was appointed a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. She also has roles within the British Geriatric Society and lectures at the University of Glasgow.

“I’m really fortunate in my department because it is full of inspiring people,” she smiles. “The first female president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, the current President of the British Geriatric Society….excellence is expected, disability or not, and that is what I want and strive for, but there is a culture of kindness too, and an ethos of support. I know I am very lucky to work in that kind of environment.”

It has been, she says, a ‘brutal’ 18 months.

“COVID has been catastrophic for older adults, and at one point, we were treating 10 per cent of Scotland’s covid in-patients here at the GRI,” she says. “But we are a really good team and supported each other, and no matter how bad it was for us, we know it was nothing compared to what the patients and their families were going through.”

Kirsty’s parents were involved in the early days of Bobath Scotland (now Cerebral Palsy Scotland), which was set up in Glasgow in 1995 to provide intensive individual therapy for children with CP.

In 2009, the charity relocated to its current home in Port Dundas and it now runs a therapy service for adults with cerebral palsy.

Kirsty has fundraised for the charity – as a keen open water swimmer, she completed a 6.5km swim of the length of Loch Lubnaig to raise money - and earlier this year, she supported CP Scotland’s Stamp Out the Gap campaign, which raised awareness of the need for care parity for adults with CP.

Glasgow Times: Lost Voice Guy Lee Ridley. Pic: Ian West/PA Wire

Six celebrities – all of whom have CP, including comedians Rosie Jones and ‘Lost Voice Guy’ Lee Ridley, who won Britain’s Got Talent – also got involved.

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“People tend to think of cerebral palsy as a paediatric condition, and Stamp out the Gap is calling for change to improve healthcare for adults with CP, who need and deserve the same access to specialist services as anyone else with a disability or long-term condition,” says Kirsty.

Glasgow Times: Rosie Jones

“It is about promoting diversity and inclusivity which of course is not limited to CP.

“The pandemic has ‘supercharged’ pre-existing inequalities - you are more likely to die of COVID if you live in a deprived area, or if you have a disability and for some there is a view that if you are older, have a disability or a chronic health condition, then you are somehow less valuable. That is wrong and we must push back against that mindset.”

She adds: “It seems to surprise some that someone with a disability could work (more than full time) as a consultant, particularly in COVID wards. But why? There is still a stigma attached to disability, which needs to change.”