Dr Gwilym Edmondson-Jones, one of the General Medical Council’s oldest registered doctors reflects on his career working from the inception of the NHS and recalls fond memories of being a new doctor and his career in the health service.
Dr Gwilym Edmondson-Jones graduated from St Andrews University and registered with the GMC in 1948, the year the NHS was established 70 years ago.
Now long retired and 92-years-old, Dr Edmondson-Jones recalls how his first experience of work was doing locum work throughout Cumbria.
He recalls: ‘All of the patients sat around one big room and everyone could hear what they were saying. They didn’t mind that others could hear their problems as they were all Cumbrian people and knew each other. I was only 22-years-old and I must have looked like a school boy.
‘One patient I saw early on was a lady all dressed in black who attended with her teenage daughter. She kept twitching her head and I thought I had made a diagnosis of a twitch. However she was signalling towards a little door. She wanted to tell me her daughter was pregnant.’
James Monroe, a surgeon who was a friend of his father, offered the young Dr Edmondson-Jones a permanent job as a house surgeon working at Cumberland Infirmary. Unlike today he was free to carry out surgery relatively soon after qualifying.
However, he remembers that when his wife Christine gave birth to their first child he was scolded by a senior doctor for taking the weekend off, despite having been given permission.
Dr Edmondson-Jones said: ‘I thought I’d be good as a doctor as I knew a great deal about being polite and kind to patients.
‘When I was a relatively young doctor I was operating on a woman who had an ectopic pregnancy and I received a phone call to say my wife had given birth to our son. I finished the operation and was allowed the weekend off. However, when I returned on the Monday morning the consultant quizzed me in theatre about why I hadn’t been working and told me to not let it happen again otherwise I wouldn’t get a reference. If you didn’t have a reference back then you wouldn’t get another job.’
Dr Edmondson-Jones believed he would specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology for his career however with a wife, young son and daughter, he decided to become a GP when he was offered a job in Leicester in 1952.
‘I didn’t want to be a GP initially but I did enjoy it. The patients flooded in when I started and I was never short of work. I was responsible for 4,500 patients and I’d see 50 people in the morning, then the same in the afternoon and more in the evening.’
The creation of the NHS meant seeing a doctor was free, and Dr Edmondson-Jones remembers how one of his patients tried to make the most of it.
‘Once a woman came in with what I thought was a case of wine for me as a thank you. When she entered my room I realised she had brought a budgie and asked me to treat it. I told her to go and see a vet but she refused, saying the vet would cost money but I was free.’
He said the pressure of holding surgeries mornings and evenings, even on a Saturday and emergencies on a Sunday, became too much and he moved to a different practice after 14 years. Dr Edmondson-Jones was also one of the GP/obstetricians to what was then Leicester’s Westcotes Maternity Hospital for around 30 years.
The retired GP said his wife Christine, who he has been married to for 70 years this year, went the extra mile as a doctor’s wife and helped to make the work more enjoyable.
‘Christine fitted in as a doctor’s wife better than I ever could have imagined. She was a stunning woman then and still is now aged 93. She’d answer calls from patients at home. I used to tell her not to give patients any advice otherwise I’d be up before the GMC.
‘I’d never do an examination on a woman without a chaperone. If nobody else was available at the patient’s home then Christine would come with me – even during the night – all of the patients knew her. I remember getting a call about a child during the night. I gave advice and went to bed but Christine told me I better visit the child otherwise I wouldn’t sleep.’
He said he wouldn’t like to be a doctor now as he believes the medical profession was at its finest when he started working and patients would accept what he said willingly. Due to graduating the year the NHS was established he was one of the first new doctors working in the health service. Before 1948, most patients were required to pay for treatment.
Before retiring in 1994 Dr Edmondson-Jones was appointed the Chairman of Leicestershire Family Health Service Authority. He stopped practising as a GP in the late 1980s as the demands of being Chairman left his GP partner with too much work.
He spent his early retirement in the Lake District before relocating to the Midlands to be closer to family.
He continues to keep up to date on the latest health news.
‘I have always been a doctor and I will continue to be GMC registered until I die’.