Dr Peter Moore, former Torbay GP, writes for the Torbay Weekly:
When I refused to prescribe an inappropriate drug during a GP surgery in a prison I was told: “You’re just an f***ing vet.”
I had to point out that my A-levels would not have got me near veterinary college.
But, even though I’m not clever enough to be a vet, I am enjoying the new series of All Creatures Great and Small. It gives an insight into veterinary practice in the 1930s but what was it like for GPs?
Luckily, I started my career when there were plenty of anecdotes from older colleagues giving an insight into the work of my predecessors.
One told me that, when he started, he asked man elderly man about a scar on his finger.
“That were the old doc. Marvellous. I had this swollen finger, he saw me in the street, took a knife out from his pocket and cut it open. Do you know?” he added, “That doc never even go off his horse.”
I spent a month of my training in the 1970s in Cornwall with a doctor whose father had been a GP in rural Dorset.
As a young go-ahead doctor, he wanted to move the practice into the 20th century so he said to his senior partner: “Sir, I think we should install a telephone.” Much to his surprise the old man agreed: “Good idea.”
On the first day they had a phone he wrote down the calls and took the list to his partner.
“Here are our visits which came in on the telephone,” he said.
“No,” came the reply. “Your idea to have a telephone, they’re your visits.”
Until the senior man retired, he would not take any calls which came in on the phone.
But there were advantages. My colleague’s mother tried to explain how tough it was for his father in ‘the old days’.
“He was always on call, none of these rotes you have today.”
His father then pointed out that, although he was always ‘on call’ if he had a visit in the middle of the countryside, he could do two hours fishing on the way out and two hours on the way home. And fishing seems to have been popular.
My grandfather was a GP in Newton Abbot before the war. When petrol rationing came in, every visit had to be justified. He also had a patient who lived close to a good fishing river. One day he visited her, and she commented: “You’ve got a wonderful practice. You’re the third doctor I’ve seen today.”
When working at the old Freedom Fields Hospital in Plymouth, I used to ‘moonlight’ by working as a locum in a GP practice in the city. I did the surgery for the young, junior partner who was a mere 65. There were two other partners, one in his 70s and one well into his 80s.
I was told that when the older partner was first in practice he travelled around Crownhill on a pony and trap with a nurse. When they reached the house they were visiting he sent the nurse in first to ensure that the patient was sitting up in bed and tidy. He then came in and made his diagnosis from the end of the bed, asked to wash his hands and left without touching the patient.
But I also had a chance to talk to him, between his bouts of coughing while he was smoking. He told me that he once asked Lord Horder, physician to King Edward VII, George V and George VI, to visit one of his patients. He seemed to think that I might know Lord Horder since I was trained at the same hospital despite the fact that he died in 1955.
“Came down on the train, first class. Charged one hundred guineas then.”
Talking to older GPs it soon became clear that, although I never met Lord Horder, never visited with a nurse on a pony and trap and cannot imagine not having a phone, general practice is still all about people and their families and that does not change.
I wonder whether a modern vet recognises the care given by a rural vet in All Creatures Great and Small.