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Lord Rea was in that visionary group of early NHS doctors

24 September, 2020

Lord Rea

• FOLLOWING John Gulliver’s tribute to Lord Rea (A peerless GP who helped to build the NHS, September 17) I would like to add something to his life in the context of the development of NHS primary care.

Back in the 1960s I got to know the doctors in the old Caversham Road practice and admired the way they worked.

Later on the forward-looking partners from the Caversham and James Wigg GP practices came to work alongside each other to build the innovative first Kentish Town Health Centre.

The centre was designed to facilitate the way staff, both clinical and administrative, worked together and interacted. Everybody had their roles and were equally valued and respected.

It represented for me the potential future of not just general practice but the broader concept of a multi-disciplinary primary care service serving all the health needs of the people in a local area.

Although I did not work there (but ran weekly undergraduate teaching seminars) this early experience confirmed my own future career, developing similar ideas in centres in Islington and Norwich.

Nic Rea was almost the last of that visionary group of early NHS doctors who I knew. Don Grant, another much-loved GP, only died last February.

As was mentioned in the recent British Medical Journal obituary, Nic and this group of doctors were captured for posterity in recorded seminars some 20 years ago upstairs in the Pineapple pub where we met over informal lunches.

They talked of their work from the beginning of the NHS, how they felt as caring doctors and their hopes for the future of NHS.

Many have since died, of course, but I am proud to say that their voices and dreams are held for future generations in the archives of the Royal College of GPs.

I am now long retired myself and much of what that generation of GPs developed has survived but it is sad for me that not all.

If NHS primary care, working with the community and public health services that we envisioned, had been truly valued and financed within the NHS, while resources have been unequally channelled into secondary care hospitals, we might have a very different balance within the NHS today.

For instance, if this had happened I suspect that the response to the current pandemic would have been swifter and much more effective in manageable local areas like the borough of Camden under the guidance of a legally powerful medical officer of health, a public servant, with concern for the health of all the residents.

Retired Camden GP


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