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Dr Leslie Harrington: ‘I took out an ovarian cyst with chloroform, a rag and forceps’

A GP for 44 years, Dr Harrington recounts how GP working conditions and patient's attitudes have changed over the years.

My first memory of being a GP is – within a month of having started in 1966 – adding my name to a list the BMA was compiling as part of the threatened mass resignation over conditions in general practice. It's the only time I remember GPs winning such a battle.

Working conditions have changed enormously since I started – I was given a rag and bottle of chloroform for a forceps extraction and took out my wife's ovarian cyst myself in the local hospital.

The senior partner ruled the roost in practices then and other partners did as they were told. Mine once called me into his room, pulled down my jacket so my arms were caught and stuck a needle in my bottom to give me my flu jab. There was a much more relaxed attitude to informed consent then.

We had a one-in-two on-call rota – one week on and one week off. This meant I was on duty for six and a half days at a stretch, and when I started I did five out of the first seven Christmas duties.

The work was differently spread in the early days – we had more space in the middle of the day but worked later into the evening. I never put my children to bed, but had a nice gap in the afternoon to see my family.

The removal of 24-hour responsibility was a backward step – young GPs now come on and off duty, it's less of a vocation, which worries me.

Patients are still basically the same, though people present sooner nowadays. In some ways this makes the job harder as we have less to go on, but we now have vastly improved access to investigations. I used to have to take X-rays myself, and develop them too.

The main change in patients has been a general willingness to talk about emotional problems. Men in particular feel much happier about bursting into tears, but we have less time to be a confidant to them. I would regularly spend an hour counselling some patients – I just don't have the time to do that now.

I've been in the same practice for my whole career, along with working part time in hospital as a neurologist.

Overall, it's all been good and a huge privilege. I have no plans to retire.

Dr Leslie Harrington, 72, Lichfield, Staffs

Dr Leslie Harrington: 'I took out an ovarian cyst with cloroform, a rag and forceps' How long have you been in practice?

Are you a long-serving GP? Would you like to share your experiences? Email or call deputy editor Adam Legge on 020 7921 8097.