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Life as a GP in the Outer Hebrides

Dr David Bickle has been ‘The Doctor’ on the remote Isle of Barra for the past 28 years. Now he’s looking for a successor…

I have been the GP on the Isle of Barra for 28 years.

Barra is the most isolated island practice in the Outer Hebrides, famous for being the Whisky Galore Island, and the island where the plane lands on the beach. There are over 1,200 patients and I did the first seven years single-handed. Then before the new contract in 1990 I took on a partner and Barra became a double inducement practice.

My first partner left after 13 years, before the next new contract, and since then I have not been able to find a partner willing to stay beyond 18 months. I plan to retire in two years and I would like to find a doctor to take over the practice and earn the title the islanders have given me of ‘The Doctor’ – which is what I hear whispered when I enter a hall or shop!

The practice includes the Isle of Vatersay, joined by a causeway now after the drowning of a bull being swum across led to the famous court case. There is also a very small cottage hospital of which I am medical officer, where emergencies are cared for before being evacuated now by helicopter. It is on average four and half hours before the helicopter arrives and can be as much as 12 or 18 hours – there is then still an hour and half’s flight before the patient reaches a mainland hospital. This means that patients have to be stabilised before transport.

The doctor I am looking for will have a broad experience in medicine, surgery, orthopaedics, psychiatry, obstetrics and paediatrics. They will have to be confident dealing with emergencies and not mind the on-call rota of one in two. As well as this they will have to be able to cope with the isolation, what is known as the goldfish bowl effect of everybody knowing your business and what they don’t know they make up! As well as this their spouse must be able to cope with island life and being tied to the phone while on-call.

The other side of the coin is there is a strong sense of community on the island; we won the Best Village Community competition last year. There is also the opportunity to practise traditional medicine with an excellent dedicated team. The island lends itself to all sorts of outdoor activities from surfing to ornithology.

The emergencies do happen. My first year there was a motorbike crash with two men seriously injured, followed by twins deliver in a force 12 with forceps applied to the first twin. They were delivered in a croft house. The twins will be 28 this year; luckily the other twins have all been born on the mainland. The obstetrics flying squad could not fly in a force 12.

There is usually at least one serious car crash a year – there have been six fatalities in my 28 years, though they have either died before I have arrived or a week later in a mainland hospital.

There have been more amusing occurrence. A drunk once called me out at 3am and sang me the Hallelujah chorus, from beginning to end. He had a fine voice!

I am hoping that there is a GP out there who is looking for a challenge and is willing to take on one of the toughest practices in the British Isles.

Dr David Bickle has been a GP on the Isle of Barra for the past 28 years Dr David Bickle has been a GP on the Isle of Barra for the past 28 years Get in touch

GPs who think they are up to the challenge can contact Dr Bickle at