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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Our 20-year partnership

What lies behind a long successful partnership? Dr Andy Briggs explains the ingredients that have enabled his partnership with Dr John Taylor to last 20 years, and counting

What lies behind a long successful partnership? Dr Andy Briggs explains the ingredients that have enabled his partnership with Dr John Taylor to last 20 years, and counting

An unbroken partnership of 20 years duration, like ours, would have been common in general practice 20 to 30 years ago. Today it seems a rarity and I know of only one other partnership in the UK today that has lasted as long. It's not surprising, really, as we say goodbye to the age of traditional family-centred general practice and enter the age of health centres, salaried posts and polyclinics. General practice has seen a lot of changes in the last 20 years but John Taylor and I have survived intact.

Friendship

We knew each other before we became partners. In fact I had become a friend of the Taylor family several years before as I had trained at medical school with John's younger brother. When John's GP parents retired from their surgery I replaced them. Our friendship has blossomed over the years without us living in each other's pockets. We have our own separate social circles but when these occasionally combine we get on extremely well. Our children went to the same schools and we both support Spurs. However, we do have our differences – John is a keen tennis player and sailor and I prefer cricket and table-top games. We enjoy the occasional pint together.

Financial faith

With regard to finance we have absolute trust in each other. Every partnership has to. We do have a partnership agreement but to be honest neither of us could say what's in it as it hasn't been looked at since it was penned 20 years ago. Constantly referring to a legal partnership document is bound to undermine trust.

We both understand the other's financial and tax demands and plan our accounts accordingly. We generally under-draw on our monthly payments, which leaves us a nice nest egg with which to pay the tax every six months. This means that there is no last-minute panic mobilising funds from our personal savings. We go through our accounts regularly with our practice manager and every payment in and out is logged by hand in a ledger. This is then handed to our accountants at the end of the tax year.

We try to keep the capital accounts even but if one partner has contributed more than the other in any particular year we do not regard it as a big deal. The difference is generally settled up over the following year without fuss.

Philosophy

We both believe general practice is about continuity of care and commitment to hard work. Our patients know that they will see the same doctor for their illness as they saw last time. They also know they can see him soon. We know who we are caring for and with a small total practice population of 4,500 patients, we reckon we know most people and what they are suffering from. Large practices and polyclinics that work on shift and rota systems will find it difficult to offer such continuity. We embrace change at our own pace and do what's in the patients' best interests.

We are both cynical that this Government and previous ones have an agenda to eradicate small practices such as ours and replace the whole health system with privately owned polyclinics.

We feel we are still learning this game and often quiz each other over medical matters to keep ourselves up to date. We often show each other puzzling patients and ask each other's opinion if we're not sure about something, particularly with our GPSI dermatology work.

Neither of us have wacky ideas like taking a year out to trek round the Himalayas, or set up a hospital in Africa. We work for each other, here, in Essex.

Flexibility

We can spot when the other partner is under pressure and step in accordingly to reduce his workload.

We have to show flexibility when it comes to planning a holiday and taking time off. We have an unwritten agreement that we should not both be on holiday at the same time. This was broken only once but on mutual consent many years ago when we went off skiing together at short notice!

We try not to take holidays around the Christmas period as this is a busy time for the surgery and a difficult time to get locums; another unwritten agreement.

Between us we have had our fair share of serious illness but have taken little time off work, knowing the pressure the other partner would be under in our absence.

Fairness

All earnings are split evenly, with the exception of seniority payments. However, these are now almost the same, although John has a couple of years' start over me. Income from other ventures such as clinical assistantships, GPSI work, local private school medicals and so on is shared equally, even though only one partner may have done the work. We realise that when one partner is away from the surgery during normal hours it puts a strain on the other partner so this extra income is shared. The same goes for PMA reports and cremation fees.

We share the workload equally, having one half-day per week each. We used to share on-call and weekend cover but opted out when everyone else did. We share the visit load equally, although this can vary from week to week according to demand.

We were approached by our PCT five years ago to set up a GPSI dermatology service, but we agreed only if we could do it together for mutual support. We studied for the Diploma in Clinical Dermatology together, supporting each other along the way.

Like a marriage

In the words of Dr Krishna Korlipara, who's own unchanged 24-year partnership with Dr Surinder Malhotra and Dr Arun Mishra has stood the test of time, ‘partnership is based on the principle of love and respect for each other rather than promotion of one's ego'. Our partnership is a like a marriage; we trust, respect and support each other and locked away in a file somewhere is a dusty document that we both signed once.

In finding that ideal partner you also need a lot of luck.

Dr Andy Briggs and Dr John Taylor practise in Buckhurst Hill, Essex

Dr Andy Briggs (right) with Dr John Taylor Dr Andy Briggs (right) with Dr John Taylor

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Hey, Andy and John,
    What a fine article, and I hope that you're both continuing to practice and enjoy it with each other.
    Nice to hear a positive story about GP's for a change.
    Best wishes
    Anthony O'Neill

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