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The Daily Rhino
Monday, December 22, 2008

Death of a GP
Dear Lord Darzi,

I’m an SHO – sorry, CT1 – and have never had any inclination to become a GP. Hence, in my somewhat selfish way, I disagreed with, but largely ignored, your infamous polyclinic plans. Yet two funerals I attended this year brought into sharp focus why I, and thousands of doctors, feel polyclinics are a step in the wrong direction.

My mother’s younger sister met her husband at medical school in India and mirroring countless similar couples, came to the UK in the 1980s to start a family. Both worked as hospital SHOs for a time before becoming GPs in the north of England.

My aunt stayed at the same practice for many years, becoming a fast favourite with patients due to her caring nature and comforting smile. She raised my two cousins, the eldest of whom is now an F1. My uncle also excelled in his career and expanded his practice immensely. He pioneered many new initiatives, sat on various committees but never forgot his priority was his patients. His devotion to their care won him a profile in the Daily Mail as ‘Britain’s favourite GP’; secretly nominated by patients and staff. He found the whole thing embarrassing.

Both would routinely go far beyond the call of duty for their patients. Yet they would be the first to tell you that they were not exceptions. Their dedication to care, the relationships they built with patients and their place in the community is shared by GPs across the UK. Genuine family doctors.

Their diagnoses of two different cancers came years apart, but they died within three weeks of each other this summer. They were in their mid-fifties and desperately tried to keep working as long as they could. Both felt most comfortable in an NHS hospital when unwell.

I organised both funerals in the same crematorium. Its capacity was one hundred and on both occasions it was filled more than twice over. I enjoyed chatting to patients who simply felt ‘they ought to be there’. They emphasised how they regarded my aunt and uncle as honest friends, who they confided in, trusted and who never hesitated to tell them the truth.

A tall man with long hair, tattoos and a leather jacket, smiled when he thought about my uncle’s place in his life:

“I’ve had seven children, three wives and four houses...Dr X has been the only constant in my life!”

It is this one line that makes me fearful the British public’s relationship with their most important doctor will change forever.

My cousin wants to follow in her parents’ footsteps as a general practitioner. I want her to be able to experience the lasting relationships with patients my aunt and uncle did. I want her to be a constant in their lives.

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