As a child, Gill Monk was desperate to become a nurse. She wore a mini uniform and spent hours treating a row of doll “patients”, complete with pencilled-on wounds.
This burning ambition to help others persisted and when she was a teenager she applied for a place at the private Royal Masonic teaching hospital in Hammersmith, as recommended by her father. It was her first step into a health-based career which has shadowed her working life and led her to create a business aimed at ensuring companies keep their employees in tip-top condition.
Gill explains her choice of nurse training school. “My father was a freemason and said if I really wanted to do this, I might as well get the best start.” Places were over-subscribed, but she was selected and joined just after her 19th birthday. Sadly, after about 18 months, her father fell seriously ill and she had to give up her studies. Instead, she returned home to Kent and got a job with the Department of Health and Social Security in Maidstone, determined that one day she would return to nursing.
“I was a clerical officer, and over the years worked in the fraud department and as a visiting officer. I left in 1978 to work for Britelite Windows and over the 11 years there, learned much about direct sales, accountancy and marketing. It was also at Britelite that I met my husband-to-be, David .”
In 1987/88 while on maternity leave, Gill started a party-plan company selling handicrafts – her first taste of running a business – which fitted in well with the birth of daughter Alice. Britelite was sold in the late 1980s and David was made redundant. Gill was expecting their second daughter and the timing was not great, but undeterred the couple decided to start their own manufacturing company, manufacturing double-glazed units for the trade, at a factory in Ashford, Kent.
As if this was not enough for a busy young working mum, Gill also set up The Old Mill Office Services, based at their home at Lyminge, near Folkestone. It was a forerunner of the virtual PA idea and was based around a simple piece of kit – a fax machine and email.
Gill recalls: “I must have been the first person in the village to own a fax machine and internet connection and it made perfect sense to offer the facility to other small companies. It proved a very successful business, with a wide range of clients in the UK and Europe.”
David, meanwhile, had branched into the conservatory roofing and glass sealed unit business, offering bespoke double-glazed units. Then the recession hit and the company had to be shut down. Gill is proud that they managed to do this at no cost to their staff. “We walked away owing nothing and hurting no one,” she said.
How does All Health Matters differ from other, larger, occupational health providers?
It runs a mobile van, which visits client premises – maximising the number of staff seen and minimising the time they have to be off work.
The West London clinic includes a chauffeur service to take employees to and from their appointments.
It uses no answering machines, your call will be answered by a human.
Clients have access to two resident occupational health physicians, plus trained nurses and specialist practitioners.
Appointments can be made out of office hours, to give extra flexibility.
The Old Mill Office Services was now pretty successful and Gill was approached to help with setting up a private medical practice in east Kent. This led to an offer of a full-time job in occupational health with the company. “I was useful to them because I had some medical knowledge, I knew a lot about HR and health and safety. These are the three main essentials of providing good occupational health. I was also a bookkeeper and marketer, which they made good use of.”
In 2006, the medical practice was taken over by a national company and Gill left because she did not agree with some of the changes it proposed. It was time for a change.
With David ready to retire, the couple agreed on a “life laundry”. They sold their home, cars and furniture (putting essentials into an old shipping container on a farm) and set off for New Zealand for an extended holiday.
“It was the best thing we ever did. I thoroughly recommend anyone to just take stock and follow their heart,” she said. “We returned in January 2008 refreshed and ready for a new challenge.”
After a short period squashed into a tiny holiday home in New Romney while they decided what to do next, Gill and David invested their savings in four houses – three to let to students, and one for them to live in. In 2009 Gill also made the bold decision, at the age of 54, to go to university.
She enrolled on a year’s course in occupational health at the University of Glamorgan, opting also to qualify in phlebotomy, immunisation and vaccination. It was a tough, but enjoyable experience, says Gill and “gave me credibility” when she decided to set up All Health Matters in 2010.
This is dedicated to delivering occupational health services to local and national companies, via a team of qualified and experienced medical practitioners. Services on offer include pre-employment health screening, sickness absence management and general health checks.
Private patients can also visit the All Health Matters clinics in Canterbury, London Docklands, West London and Bexhill-on-Sea for a number of health services, including travel vaccinations, psychological therapies, vein treatments or cardiovascular screening.
Gill explained why she went into the occupational health business: “The ever-increasing requirements of health and safety legislation and the impact on a business of lost days through sickness emphasise the need to look after your workforce. “We understand that staff are probably your greatest asset and like any asset they need to be maintained. If it was equipment that broke down, you would get it fixed. Why should the work force be any different? All Health Matters can help find ways to keep them well at work or get them back to work when they are off sick.”
And, true to her childhood calling, Gill can now indulge her passion for hands-on health care from time to time, taking blood or administering vaccinations. A true circle of life.
Photo: Oysterbay Photography