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Happy Birthday NHS! GP surgery in Kentish Town joins the party

Former health secretary Frank Dobson

30 June, 2018 — By Steve Barnett and Tom Foot

A TEAM of doctors, patients and members of the Labour party came together for a triple celebration in a secret little garden in the heart of Kentish Town on Saturday afternoon.

Council leader Georgia Gould, MP Keir Starmer and Camden mayor councillor Jenny Headlam-Wells were among the special guests at a garden party at the Caversham Group Practice, marking the 70th anniversary of the NHS and 20 years since the surgery relocated from Caversham Road to Peckwater Street.

They were also there to celebrate the second anniversary of the Listening Space Garden, a once-derelict area that, with the help of colleagues, patients and members from Transition Kentish Town, senior partner Dr Jane Myat helped transform into a tranquil space where visitors can relax or take part in various arts and crafts activities.

Former health secretary Frank Dobson, who originally opened the practice 20 years ago, was also among the guests, who gave speeches before enjoying an afternoon of poetry, music, food and drink.

“When you’re here, at Caversham, it’s a bit difficult to realise this isn’t typical of the state of the NHS generally because you’ve got fine buildings and a brilliant group of people working on behalf of local people,” said the former Labour MP for Holborn an St Pancras.

Reflecting on the garden space, Dr Myat said: “The garden came about from the idea of using an unused garden to create a space where we could work, think and come together differently with our patients when looking at health-related issues… to provide practical alternatives to problems which might otherwise end up with medication or unaddressed.”

She added: “This seems to be the fabric of social prescribing models which are seeing an increase in interest for the impact they can have on wellbeing.”

The practice which opened on the NHS’s first day

DR Hugh Faulkner opened the Caversham GP practice in Kentish Town on July 5 1948 – the day the NHS was born.

During the Second World War he had observed how the Communist-led resistance ran its medical corps.

It informed his outlook on how the health service should be run and went on to become a significant figure in both the Medical Practitioners’ Union and the Socialist Health Association.

He ensured the Caversham was based on a co-operative model with doctors, nurses, health visitors, midwives and social workers working together collectively.

Like many progressive doctors of the era, Dr Faulkner believed that the National Health Service would develop this vision. But – in a news piece in 1957, which can be seen on the British Pathé website – he revealed his “frustration and disillusionment” that the rising costs of providing this model was not being matched by Government. “We feel let down, promises have not been kept,” he said.

When asked about the impact on patients, he said: “No GP is going to do anything that is going to harm the interests of his patient. But inevitably, if this situation continues we are going to have to limit the developments in the way of extra staff, equipment improving our premises which has been going on steadily since the NHS began. Many younger practitioners are thinking of emigrating to other countries. I think this process will continue.”

In 1973, Dr Faulkner moved the Caversham into a purpose-built Kentish Town Health Centre in Bartholomew Road. His practice teamed up with Dr John and Elizabeth Horder at the James Wigg Practice, also in Kentish Town

. John, considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern general practice, was one of the first GPs to work with the Tavistock Clinic, applying psychoanalytic ideas to medicine.

Lord Nick Rea, who first joined the Caversham in the 1950s, described Dr Faulkner as a “pioneer of the health centre movement”.

Recalling his time there, Lord Rea said: “There was a wonderful relationship with the community health services that was also down to the open-minded attitude of Dr Wilfrid Harding, the medical officer of health for Camden. He had all the social workers and district nurses working under him”

He added: “Faulkner was the driving force in getting the wider concept of group practice off the road – in our practice, but also he had a big influence on what happened in the whole country. Quite a lot of doctors had resisted the idea of collaborating with other professions as a team. But that idea has now taken hold everywhere.”

Lord Rea, who lives in Tufnell Park, said: “Since the Thatcher government came in, there has been quite a bit of determination to stop all that. The Health and Social Care Act (2012) had uniformly a bad effect. It introduced more competition, less cooperation. “I’m very pleased that the NHS is still an on-going concern. I know that nearly always it gives a very good service. “A minority of times things don’t go well. Largely that is due to being underfunded and under pressure.”

Dr Robert MacGibbon, who taught medical students at the Kentish Town Health Centre, recalled its “very innovative” practices, adding: “Kentish Town doctors were right there from the start.”

Dr Faulkner married his long-term practice nurse Marian and the couple retired to Italy, where, according to his obituary in the Guardian, he continued his political activity as a consultant in Tuscany.

He died in 1994 aged 81.

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