A life in pharmacy: Dr Mahendra Patel OBE on Bradford childhood and his career

“It’s a different world to where I am now – it’s a huge leap forward to where we were in the 60s.”

Dr Mahendra Patel OBE has shared an inspiring message of hope to Bradford’s young people as he reflects on his journey so far.

From being a research pioneer in health inequalities to life-changing work preventing type-2 diabetes in South Asians, Dr Mahendra is a multi-award winning pharmacist and academic with roots in Bradford.

It was his latest accolade, being named in the Queen’s New Year’s Honors List for services to pharmacy, which took him on a trip back to his childhood.

Photos via Dr Mahendra Patel OBE show just a small selection of awards won throughout his career so far.

“It just made me go into a little space really,” he told the Telegraph & Argus.

“When I reflected back on it, it put me into a dark place as it made me realize what I’ve done in my journey.

“I have to pinch myself.”

Professor Patel’s parents were one of the first families from Gujarati, India, to settle in Bradford during the 1950s.

His father worked both day and night shifts in the mills while his mother stayed at home.

“They didn’t come with anything,” Dr Mahendra recalled.

“They didn’t have any money – you could only bring £ 5 at the time.”

Prof Patel was born at St Luke’s Hospital, making him the youngest of his five siblings.

Describing his childhood, he said: “My father was working seven days a week and trying to get two buses all the way to Shipley; also supporting others that were coming through, we were a go to family for people to think, ‘He’ll help us out’.

“My father had a little grocery store after that.

“There wasn’t much toys in the house. There was just anything we had around like boxes. Life was different, a world apart with limited resources, limited engagement with parents as they were just busy trying to make ends meet and keep us all going.

“School became a bit of an escape. It was just education, education, education really. ”

Against the backdrop of the National Front and political condemnation of mass immigration, life took a dark turn.

“It was in the Enoch Powell days,” Dr Mahendra said.

“It became a norm to be called different names. Going to school after about seven years of age was a real ordeal.

“It was a huge worry for me. Canterbury estate, at the time a notorious council estate, walking through that estate [to school] was scary being alone.

“The safest place for me to be was in the classroom. It’s no exaggeration, I’m playing this down. ”

Through all his struggles, Mahendra’s focus on education acted as a constant guide and he was the second person in his family to attend university.

Inspired by his brother’s suggestion to take up pharmacy, he embarked on a degree at the University of Bradford and trained at Boots Kirkgate.

In the face of several rejections, his pharmacy career took off – opening different pharmacies in West Yorkshire over many years and later working for a pharmaceutical company in Alabama.

But it was an observation about his two branches – one found in leafy, affluent Oulton, the other on Manchester Road in inner city Bradford – which inspired his never-ending mission to fix inequalities.

“That’s when I started my PHD, where I realized the health inequalities, that I started doing charity work, raising the awareness of heart disease,” he said.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photo via Dr Mahendra Patel OBE show his invite to the Queen's Garden Party in 2014.Photo via Dr Mahendra Patel OBE show his invite to the Queen’s Garden Party in 2014.

Among his achievements, Dr. Patel has helped create new health guidelines which improve outcomes for disadvantaged people across the UK – saving the NHS millions; lowered the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death in India and became a national lead during the Covid pandemic for the PRINCIPLE and PANORAMIC trials run by Oxford University, repurposing existing drugs into new treatments to prevent hospitalisation.

The professor is the University of Bradford’s first Global Ambassadora visiting professor at a number of institutions across the world and was made the International Lebanese Honorary Ambassador to the Lebanese Order of Pharmacists in 2018.

Speaking to Bradford’s youth, Dr Patel said: “I think the message is not to be poisoned by others outside as long as you have a firm focus, firm belief and your morals. Continue to have that faith and belief in yourself. ”

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