Many will now be familiar with this news, as I have threatened it for a while! After very nearly 33 years as a partner at Papworth, I am retiring from the Practice on 31st March. It has been a most satisfying career, full of interest, and lots challenges, and hundreds lovely people. I have witnessed families grow up, shared some of their anxieties and crises, seen their children have families themselves, and seen the elder generation grow older and often wiser. It has been a great privilege to work amongst you all for such a long time.
And how medicine, Papworth, and General Practice, have all changed in those years! In 1989 the village had just 1,500 residents (4,600 now) and consisted largely of Papworth Hall, a line of grey pebbledash houses either side of Ermine Street, plus Papworth Industries in various warehouse buildings in the centre of the village; the last remaining one, the old Printworks, now nearing regeneration and a new lease of life.
There were no mobile phones in 1989, we did our own on-call, and my wife took calls in evenings and weekends. At those times I would leave a list of the visits I was making, together with the home phone numbers, and if I was needed she would ring round to the houses I was visiting and try to catch me.
There were no computers either; we wrote short notes in brown card wallets that were the patient’s notes. We didn’t write much either; just a couple of lines of (largely indecipherable) scrawl. We dictated letters to our secretary who had an office in Papworth Hall (there was no room for her in our small premises in Haynes-Owen Place); she took it down in shorthand and returned the next day with letters typed for signature; they were sent by post to the hospitals, and waiting times could be as long as 4 years for hip replacements.
Patients needing a repeat of their regular medication turned up to the surgery with their empty bottles of pills, which were refilled from pots of 1,000. The dispenser hand-wrote prescriptions for these refills, and the GPs signed a big pile at the end of each week. But we didn’t treat that many diseases, and few people took much medication. For instance, cholesterol had not been thought of as a problem, and there was no effective treatment in any case. Blood pressure was ok as long as it was about 100 plus your age, for the higher number. Those who had heart attacks were admitted to hospital, but they were merely offered pain relief and they took their chances; opening up blocked arteries had not yet been imagined. In fact elderly folk with heart attacks were often left at home after a shot of morphine, and the GP would come and see them again the next day if they were still alive.
Life was truly a bit simpler; there were few “guidelines” that had to be followed; NICE did not exist, and people were pretty tolerant of hardship and disability, and managed many illnesses without input from GPs: perhaps as we had little effective to offer! We didn’t do many blood tests, and GPs could not order X Rays; CT scans had yet to be invented. So far from the “Amazon Prime” instant gratification that we all experience now!
But with my departure (and fond memories of a bygone age through rose-tinted spectacles!) all is not lost! A new partner starts with us in February; Dr Clare Routledge. She qualified in the same year as Dr Coulson, and has been working as a salaried GP in Sawston with the Granta group. All the GPs at Papworth will now be youthful, knowledgeable and thoughtful, so that I am confident that the Practice will thrive and patients will have excellent care.