A London digression: Duty done, despite having the wrong accent


A London digression: Duty done, despite having the wrong accent

RCGP exhibit on book
The book that inspired the exhibition

Other South Asian doctors wrote they couldn’t get a foot in the door and were struggling financially 

A minor travel disaster one spring morning led me serendipitously to the Royal College of GPs’ elegant headquarters near Euston Station in London. 

After various phone calls and office visits, my lost luggage enquiries proved to be Kafkaesque circuitry. I gave up, and chose to roam for a few hours as my stay in the UK drew to a close. 

The chain eateries and their outdoor smokers near the station had little appeal but, as I set off for the other Euston Station (the underground), here was the grand old RCGP with some rather enticing lettering. Not its own logo as such, but the words "Café Caritas". 

The café is open to the public as well as to you medical people, and so I had tea and a feta pastry in the gorgeous ground-floor space that, on cue, flooded with warm sun. 

Royal College of GPs’ exterior near Euston Station, London
Exhibition on migrant doctors 

Suited men with manila folders may well have been college dignitaries but, conscious of my backpacker's gear, I decided not to approach them. 

I probably would not have gone inside without the tea temptation, and the other interesting signage, promising an exhibition on the impact of migrant doctors on the National Health Service (NHS). 

The scene was set with a 1950 Lancet clipping, an editorial expounding on an Australian researcher’s findings of harsh conditions and low-quality care in British general practice, especially in the industrial areas. 

Overwork, it seemed, was killing the profession. 

By 1982, with the migrant GP population having boosted numbers, South Asian GPs had become the backbone of care in those industrial towns and cities, the exhibition showed. They made up about a third of the GPs in Liverpool, Sunderland, Wigan and Birmingham, and more than half the GPs in Walsall, at a time of especially high unemployment. It must have been Struggle Street. 

This put me in mind of one of my first articles for New Zealand Doctor, a profile of Sadanand Hegde, who went from Madras, India, to Wainuiomata near Wellington, and served there as a GP for 36 years. 

According to the exhibition, many of the migrant doctors worked in husband-and-wife partnerships, as Dr Hegde did. 

The RCGP introduces visitors to migrants who made the NHS
Documented in print 

Other South Asian doctors wrote they couldn’t get a foot in the door and were struggling financially. Practices turned them down because the leading GP partner favoured a chap from within their own circles. 

The exhibition was based around oral historian Julian Simpson’s book, Migrant architects of the NHS. South Asian doctors and the reinvention of British general practice (1940s-1980s), from Manchester University Press. 

I left pondering how many Dr Hegdes have toiled in New Zealand’s low-income, under-served communities, and what they have contributed behind the scenes. 

The unexpected haven near London’s Euston Station, Café Caritas on the ground floor of the RCGP

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