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Dr Tony le Vann: ‘I went straight in the deep-end, with no GP training’

Dr le Vann describes how he managed to see around 100 patients a day and what he will and won't miss after he retires next month.

I didn't have much choice about becoming a GP. As a house officer in 1968 I stood up to the consultants I felt were behaving unreasonably and they refused to give me a reference.

I went straight in at the deep end with no GP training, and there were times I felt I couldn't do the job. But I've been at that same practice ever since.

Despite spending 25 years as a clinical assistant in dermatology and dabbling in medical politics, I don't envy the multi-tasking practitioner of today who is in danger of losing vital human skills. Patients get something indefinable from contact with a GP they know well. It's like the difference between going to the theatre or watching a film – the human element is key, and this is being lost.

When I started out I'd see up to 50 patients in morning surgery from 9am to 10.30, spend an hour or so chatting with my partners then make home visits – 70 a week on average. Surgery would start again at 5pm when I would see another 30-40 patients, but I still had time for a couple of hours off every afternoon.

The patients have changed enormously. Now people think there is such a thing as eternal good health but 40 years ago they were more stoical.

Pay hasn't changed dramatically. I've always been just short of well-off and what I may have gained recently in pay I have lost in job satisfaction.

I'm retiring at the end of this month because of ill health, but when I went part-time a few years ago I suffered a bereavement reaction. I've shared my patients' lives and they've shared mine – so goodness knows what I'll be like when I'm fully retired. But I won't miss the Government's interference. Their targets are not as high as GPs' own standards.

Dr Tony le Vann, 65, Doncaster

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