Was NOT Expecting That!

The highs and lows (and a load of unexpected drama!) of running my own GP practice.

I know I write books. They consist of stories, pure fiction, themes, characters and plots that I completely make up in my head.

I do draw inspiration from my personal and professional life. My debut novel, Annie! Are You OK? I centred around Annie, a young northern girl going off to study at nursing college in London. There are themes in this book that I have drawn inspiration from in real life, but it was, of course, all made up.

What I’m about to tell you I wish I HAD made up.

I wish this was one of my stories.

Alas, it’s not.

At the start of 2022, an opportunity was presented to me to work with a colleague I respect to go into partnership and take over a GP practice. As someone who has focused my working life on working for others, this was something that seemed exciting. After the last two uneventful and frustrating years of COVID, I figured had nothing to lose seizing the opportunity.

Nothing to lose? Oh, how wrong I was.

This is a tale of the highs and lows, the trials and tribulations of 2022 so far.

The Royal College of General Practitioners Sent Me An Email

Soon after taking over the GP practice, I received the amazing news that I am to be awarded the fellowship of The Royal College of General Practitioners. This is a real privilege and honour.

But what does that mean? To be awarded the fellowship?

According to the RCGP website:

Fellowship is the highest level of membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and is a distinction to which all our Members can aspire. We award fellowship as a mark of achievement, excellence and recognition for one’s contribution to general practice, and medicine more broadly.

You should be able to demonstrate a significant contribution to:

the health and welfare of the community,
the science or practice of medicine
the aims of RCGP, or any organisation which benefits general practice

My colleague, a fellow clinician, nominated me and submitted my application. I felt very humbled to receive the confirmation as there are many GPs in the UK working extremely hard in the community and I knew that being recognised as a fellow meant I was amongst peers who go the extra mile for primary care, who assist with academia, research, public health and wider community initiatives.

It also cemented my goal of taking over the new GP practice. I want the practice to be a teaching practice and host students from Liverpool and Manchester medical schools. I want our care at the practice to be exceptional, giving students access to the best clinical demonstrations and in turn, it will provide patients with a gold standard of clinical care.

That gold standard of clinical care is something my practice partner and I had been focusing on since taking over the medical centre.

We had recruited more clinical staff, doubled the number of face to face appointments and even started offering weekend appointments for necessary health checks.

My practice partner insisted that we also needed to spruce the place up a bit. I don’t notice these things like she does but I agreed the place had been a bit neglected throughout the pandemic. The decorators repainted everywhere and friends were called in to help lay carpets and replace the flooring. Necessary boiler work was completed and there were a few electrical repairs that needed to be attended to. We invested in new desks and chairs and were looking to modernise the clinical spaces to accommodate new clinicians and medical students.The renovations had to work around our face to face appointments. It was a little stressful but within a few weeks, the place had been given a new lease of life and we were proud of our achievements.

It reminded me of going to car auctions with my dad. Yes, the practice isn’t the most modern or the best looking, but we took this tired and unloved place and spruced it up a bit. Just like dad and I would do when I was younger. He once took a battered Ford Capri and a Hunter Crysler for next to nothing, spray painted them, put in new engines and spent time, energy and love on his hobby. The difference though with dad and us sprucing up the practice was at least he could sell his cars on and make a profit.

Our profits went down the drain. Along with the water from the fire engine.

Fire engine?

Yes, unfortunately, which leads me onto the next part of this story…

The First Attack on the Practice

Within two weeks of signing the contract, racist graffiti appeared on the practice walls. We were going through a handover period with the previous practice doctor who was also Asian and had worked at the practice for over 20 years. They were upset, but we both laughed it off and I went about my business, not thinking anything of it. I didn’t really know how to handle it. If I’m honest, I didn’t really want to think about racism. It’s something I’ve found easier to shut out of my mind over the years.

Luckily, as we had decorators working with us to renovate the practice, they were able to paint over it very quickly and the exterior got an unexpected paint refresh too.

We continued to make the place a better and more welcoming space for patients and the team. Our practice was shaping into something that the community could be proud of.

“We’re on fire!”

Within a few weeks, at 2:30 am, my practice partner called me.

“We’re on fire!”

I thought, in my half-asleep haze, she was excitedly calling me to praise our hard work and efforts so I replied in my usual dry way, “Yeah, we are lit!” thinking I was being hip and cool.

But we were actually on fire!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t an accidental fire. We had been deliberately targeted and petrol bombs had been thrown through our practice windows.

A GP practice that had been working so hard to be a place dedicated to the local community.

I couldn’t believe it. Knowing that we had an obligation to continue patient care, even without a practice, it was decided that I would stay home and be able to work remotely the next day, delivering telephone consultations, while my practice partner would fire up the business continuity plan.

The Business Continuity Plan

There’s something to be said for COVID. Thanks to the way we’d already pivoted in the pandemic, we were able to redirect phones, staff now have laptops so could work from home, and we were able to secure two temporary locations for face to face appointments and an in-person GP reception service. The way the team mucked in was so impressive.

After a morning of telephone consultations, I drove to the practice and was met with police tape, reporters and the distinct smell of smoke.

I got out of my car, looked and thought “Oh wow”.

Then I thought about my partner and how she must’ve felt the night before seeing it in the darkness, ablaze, our hard work up in smoke. It must’ve been awful.

Once the police let us through, going inside was acrid with smoke, it sat heavily on my chest, a little like the emotional heaviness of seeing the damage.

Everything was dusted with carbon. Our upstairs renovation, our new carpets, the paint, all hazy with the splattering of black dust, thick and stuffed into the corners.

I realised it was really quite nasty. Well, why? Why did this happen? Who has it in for us? Is it linked to the previous incident? I’m not someone who likes to think about race and racism.

“The two incidents must be related,” the police officer said.

My mind started to spin. I have faced a lot of difficulty with racism in my life. I have had bricks thrown at my face, I was beaten by a group of 10 youths. It hasn’t skewed my version of who I am and what I am. I get criticised for being too Anglicised. The graffiti thing didn’t bother me as I’m wasn’t the only brown doctor. Then they left and the place got burned down, so is it me?

The Physical and Emotional Damage

When it comes to the damage in the practice, there’s the physical damage first. Things like examination couches cost around £1000 each, work stations, phones, computers all needed to be replaced. Of course, it wasn’t just the fire damage but there’s water damage too from the fire brigade and a very brave neighbour who personally attended to the fire as he called the emergency services.

Then the emotional damage is that on the team who have been displaced, the patients who desperately need our care and the impact on the community.

The damage caused to the physical building itself – fine, that’s bricks and mortar. If all it’s cost us is money, it’s actually very cheap.

The damage emotionally I am trying not to go too deep with. Seeing my workstation damaged, just after we had painted and decorated was a kick in the teeth. “Nobody else in our team is brown.” I pondered.

The reaction from the community as a whole has been amazing. Patients have been so shocked but supportive and said things like “This isn’t the welcome you wanted.” “It doesn’t reflect anyone here.” “I promise not everyone is like this.” Many have quite rightly been defensive of the community with patients reassuring us and even sending us cards.

The incident attracted attention from the media who were keen to cover the story. Claire Hannah from ITV Granada came to witness the damage for herself and I gave this interview:

Although after the most stressful few days of my professional career, when I look back at this, I don’t know what is worse the smashed, smoke-stained windows or my hair? I am still really in disbelief where my hair went that day on that broadcast. I can’t stop looking at the side of my head from all angles to make sure I’ve not got some thin linear bald patch I was unaware of!

Learning Point

As a boxing enthusiast, I am a big fan of Rocky – so I will sign off this blog with this quote:

It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

We’ve been hit hard, but we carry on. Tomorrow is a new day.

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