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Snapshots of a life in practice

After most surgeries, the GPs in my practice partner up with a colleague and discuss the patients we have seen. It was during one of these feedback sessions, after discussing a patient who used to be a bare-knuckle fighter, that the idea of having a photography exhibition was floated.

Our practice is in Hackney, East London. We have 7,000 patients and are situated in one of most ethnically and culturally diverse and deprived parts of the UK. We are also close to the Olympic site and as the global spotlight is about to shine on London we want to show that much of the world is already here.

In recent years, the way GPs are performance managed has changed the way we work – and sometimes, the way we think.

Peoples’ medical records are beginning to appear as a list of templates. This biomedical approach risks dehumanising both patients and practitioners and I fear the art of narrative-based medicine is at risk of being overlooked, and with it the needs of the individual patient. Whilst no one can deny that standardising the management of chronic diseases brings certain health benefits to people, there are many other factors in our work that cannot be counted.

After all, there is so much work that GPs do that is simply not measurable. Inner city GPs deal with a higher proportion of patients who live in poverty, face violence and we look after higher numbers of children at risk of harm.  At our practice also provide care for large numbers of immigrants, some of whom have survived torture in their country of origin. 

In creating the exhibition, we worked with Michael von Graffenried, an award winning photographer whose trademark is his panoramic camera. Our project involved either myself or another doctor from the practice accompanying Michael, and visiting patients and their families in their own homes. I found that when I visited patients without the time pressure of an appointment, it was lovely to just sit, observe and listen with no agenda.

Like GPs everywhere, each day we bear witness to some amazing and touching stories about peoples’ lives.  We are generalists – that is what marks us out from the other specialties and what motivated me to become a GP in the first place.

Michael von Graffenried's trademark is his panoramic camera

Dr Kate Adams is a GP in Hackney, east London.

‘Shoreditch Stories’ will be open to the public at Shoreditch Park Surgery until the end of August, before it moves to the new Royal College of GPs building in September for their opening exhibit.