In 1968 I had been drifting around between Norway, Scotland and England. I had held a variety of nursing posts, surgical wards,  medical wards, maternity wards, home nursing both for Marie Curie and a private agency, and, as my present post as night sister at a  private maternity hospital was drawing to a close I was perusing the sits. vac. in the Nursing Mirror when my eye was taken by a small advert. for a practice nurse in West London, which, as an added inducement, offered a small furnished flat with the position.

At that time very few GPs employed practice nurses. Some had district nurses attached to them and some employed nurses as receptionists, but I didn’t know any who did just nursing so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I applied. I went for an interview and met Dr Alf at the surgery on a council estate near Regent’s Canal.

We got along well from the outset and he offered me the job and showed me the flat, which was behind the surgery. He also offered to send his handyman round to redecorate it as  it was a bit shabby.

He had two surgeries, the one on the estate, which had replaced the original surgery damaged by bombs in the war, and another about a mile away by Maida Vale.

He had been in general practice for over 30 years and knew most of the families on the estate and they knew him! They were confident  that, if they had a genuine illness, they were in the best possible hands, but they also knew that he could sniff out a malingerer within a short space of time!

Many of the older ladies used to reminisce about the handsome young doctor who had come as an assistant to the previous doctor in the early thirties and used to do his visits on a bicycle. When the old doctor retired he had taken over the practice and, apart from his time as an army medic during the war had been there ever since, and now did his visits in a Daimler:)

It was a one man practice and we usually had the maximum number of patients (3,500). He employed a receptionist, me and a part time assistant who worked Friday afternoon to Saturday evening as Dr Alf was an orthodox Jew and kept Sabbath and Jewish Holy days. We were a very oecumenical practice. I was Anglican, Jan, the receptionist was Methodist. The first assistant was Hindhu, the second RC and the last one I worked with a Buddhist from Sri Lanka. The estate had many Irish residents, from both sides of the divide, one pub had a collecting box for the IRA and the other a box for the UVF and yet they were surprisingly tolerant of one another and any fights on a Saturday night were unlikely to be over the religious divide.

 We had no guidelines over my duties so we just worked it out as we went along and it seemed to work well. We were much luckier than todays practices in that there was minimal interference either from government or the LHA. We had a package of boomph from Count Hall once a week, mainly new patients notes or requests for the notes of our patients who had moved away. 

Dr Alf did all his own visits, unless he was going out for the evening, and then he used the locum service. Although he was nearly sixty years old he still kept up the enthusiasm he started out with. He had trained at Guy’s and then worked in a 200 bed free hospital in South London which was run by a Matron, a Consultant physician and Consultant surgeon, an almoner  a treasurer and a secretary!  That was the total of management and it ran like clockwork!

He had already decided that he wanted to go into general practice so he studied for, and gained, his MRCP, DPH and DCH and then went to the practice which was to be his life’s work. Every week he spent his half day on Wednesdays at lectures in Hammersmith Hospital and every year he arranged his holidays around medical conferences.

We ran a very comprehensive service, ante natal, post natal, infant welfare as well as all the usual GP services. I also did regular visits to the elderly or long term infirm and reported back to Dr Alf if they needed a follow up visit from him. He gave me a lot of leeway on my duties as he trusted me to know my own limitations and it was one of the most satisfying jobs I ever had.

I learned a lot during my six years there and made lots of friends. At my engagement party (held in the waiting room of the surgery) Dr Alf described himself as my “London Dad”. I only left the job as I had got married and JW  and I had realised that we were unlikely to afford a house in London and had decided to return to my home town of Nottingham.

It was a sad leave taking, especially from Dr Alf and Jan, but we kept in touch for the rest of their lives, and even after Dr Alf died his wife took over the correspondence until her death. They all have a special place in my memory and I am lucky that it was a time when we could do our work as we felt fit without undue interference from bureaucracy.

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