I hope formality is put aside and the Queen is able to grieve for Prince Philip

PABest The Earl and Countess of Wessex leave Windsor Castle

The Earl and Countess of Wessex leave Windsor Castle following the announcement of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh at the age of 99. - Credit: PA

A few years ago, when I was working for Devon Doctors, we received a call from a very upmarket lady’s maid.

She was staying in an apartment in Torquay for a few days when her aristocratic charge had fallen ill.

She really wanted a private doctor, but I explained she’d have to cope with me. Would I have to apologise for being a bit common?

I could not get a coherent history on the phone and so decided to visit 'Lady' something.

When I arrived, the elderly maid ushered me into the great lady’s presence and started explaining the problems.

It was all rather vague. I found it impossible to pin anything down. Whenever I asked a question, her maid would answer.

Clearly telling the maid to shut up might have confirmed her prejudice that I was not as good as her personal private doctor in London. I politely asked whether the maid could go and make a cup of tea.

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Once she left the room I started talking to the lady. Initially, I asked about her London home and reminisced over my time in London as a student. 

She was clearly distressed and once I had broken the ice I just let her talk.

She opened up and told me about her husband, a hereditary peer. Recently he had died and she had been taken to Devon for a break.

She then started crying and I held her hand. An arm around her might have been better but I judged that would be a step too far.

We had a long chat about her husband, their 60 years together and the family. Her other multiple physical symptoms disappeared with the tears.

When the maid arrived with the tea she was shocked to see her lady in tears while I held her hand. She did not usually express emotion.

As I left I suggested that she should see her own doctor when she got home and talk through her feelings.

She did not have a traditional GP but I hoped that her 'personal physician' would understand and not order a battery of tests for her multiple normal bereavement symptoms.

Finally, her maid asked how much they owed me for my consultation.

“Nothing, this is all on the NHS,” I replied.

I’m not sure she’d used the NHS before but, hopefully, she’ll no longer see it as the service for the lower classes.

Afterwards, I spent some time thinking about this delightful old lady.

She had spent her life surrounded by people looking after her every need; every need except one - emotional support. 

Once I had broken through the 'stiff upper lip' and the expectations of her maid, she was an elderly lady who had lost her lifelong partner.

Her emotions were no different to my other patients who lost their lifelong partner, whether they live in a stately home or social housing.

The sad death of the Duke of Edinburgh made me think about this lady. I hope that having lost her husband of 73 years, the Queen has support - someone who can put their arm around her without breaching protocol.

Seeing the Duchess of Wessex crying and commenting that the Queen had 'been amazing' as she was driven out of Windsor Castle made me hopeful, as long as 'amazing' does not mean the stiff upper lip.

Amid the 41-gun salutes, the tributes and the funeral I hope that formality can be put on one side at home. 

The Windsors are real people, not a soap opera.

Bereavement will be as real for the Queen as for my 'Lady' in Torquay or my patients from humble backgrounds. She needs to cry with her family and friends. She needs an arm around her.

Let’s hope formal protocol does not get in the way.