General Medical Practice in Laindon

Laindon Health Centre - May 2011
Ken Porter
Laindon Roads during the Winter

What follows is a brief account of General Practice in Laindon in the 60s. I came to Laindon in February 1963 to join Drs Rubie and Martin in their medical practice at the High Road end of New Century Road, opposite the Radion Cinema. The surgery, a magnificent custom-built, architect designed state of the art building stood out in a Laindon which was being absorbed into the Basildon New Town; therefore large areas of Plotlands to the west were being demolished, and those to the east of the High Road were a building site.

The winter of 1963 was one of the longest and hardest for many years, and snow lay on the ground for more than two months. I was surprised when the smooth icy covering of the roads eventually thawed out and revealed a bumpy unmade road full of pot holes and deep puddles. Cars could not negotiate these unmade roads, of which there were many in the district, and when we had to visit patients living on these roads, we had to leave the car on the nearest metalled road, then walk, sometimes for up to 1/4 mile or more. In addition to medical equipment, there was always a pair of wellington boots and a shovel in the boot of the car.

In the opinion of old-timers such as me, life of a general practitioner in Laindon was much harder than it is nowadays. Not only did we have morning and evening surgeries – the latter usually finishing after 8 pm, but a larger part of the day was taken up with visiting patients at home – a practice which has greatly diminished today. There were several reasons for this.

Firstly, in the course of an illness such as measles in children, or a chest infection such as pneumonia or bronchitis, it was the custom to make an initial visit, then one or more follow-up visits until the patient had recovered. Nowadays the patients is seen once then instructed to contact the doctor if there is no improvement. It must be admitted that many of the follow-up visits we made in the old days were clinically unnecessary.

Because in general, drugs today are more effective and allow chronic medical conditions to be controlled better than formerly, medical emergencies such as diabetic coma, severe asthmatic attacks and congestive cardiac failure which were the reason for many house calls, especially in the middle of the night are rarely seen today. As a result of vaccination, diseases such as mumps, measles, whooping cough and diphtheria, which again were the cause of many home visits, have virtually disappeared.

There was at the time no hospital in Basildon – the nearest A&E was in Billericay. Consequently, in the event of accidents patients preferred to call out the general practitioner rather than to make their own way to Billericay. We often stitched up wounds in the surgery. Today patients go straight to A&E at Basildon Hospital without involving the G.P.

Pregnant women who did not have medical contraindications had their baby at home, attended by midwife and G.P. Nowadays, of course, virtually all births are hospital deliveries.

As with the beginning of life, so it is with its ending. Many people died at home. There was no hospice; patients dying at home from cancer would require daily visits, sometimes for weeks.

Each doctor had a list of “chronic sick” patients, who did not require necessarily a change of treatment, but who were visited on a monthly basis when the doctor would drop in for a chat and a cup of tea and write out a repeat prescription.

Another reason for the frequency of visits in the ’60s and ’70s was that many households did not have access to a motor car, therefore a doctor’s visit was preferable to a walk or taxi ride to the surgery.

In the 1960s there were no practice nurses – nowadays some work previously done by the G.P. can be and is done by the practice nurse.

Originally general practices did not have circumscribed practice areas. We had patients living in Dagenham to the west, in Southend to the east, in Mountnessing, Billericay and Ramsden Bellhouse to the north and Grays to the south. Today practice areas are sensibly much more compact. There was a patient living in Mountnessing who had a baby at home. I made four separate visits to her on the day of the delivery. On another occasion I delivered a birth in the back of a horse-drawn gipsy caravan parked in a feld in Gardiners Lane.

I should point out that many of the conditions I have mentioned above applied to general practice throughout the country. What made practice more difficult in Laindon was the number of unmade roads and the lack of hospital in Basildon, as well as the scattered nature of the practice. However, I enjoyed the work, I had two wonderful partners, and the Laindon patients were lovely!

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  • How lovely to hear from Dr Cavaroli, my husband and I were married at Christmas 1962, the snow started as we came out of the church at St Mary’s and as you mentioned it went on till about March 1963.

    I believe my husband was one of your first patients, it was around Feb/March 63 you did a home visit as he was in tremendous pain, it transpired it was appendicitis and he was taken to St Andrews.

    We were in Nightingale Ave Langdon Hills, unmade road and quite steep, how the ambulance people managed I can’t remember. I had visions of being a widow after just a few weeks of marriage, but thankfully everything turned out well and we celebrate our Golden Anniversary this year. 

    I remember well I saw you during my years of carrying my children. Our family had been with Dr Shannon then Dr Chowdhary then a young new Dr named Rubie joined Dr Chowdhary another arrival Dr Martin came and then yourself, family have always had the greatest respect and gratitude for such wonderful healthcare from you all.

    By Ellen English nee Burr (29/01/2012)
  • Dr Cavaroli, I don’t know if you remember this, as you must have seen many patients in your years of practice, but I would like to ask you, if you remember from ,approximately1982, one of my twins (James and Shelly Muir) James contracted ‘Henoch–Schönlein purpura’ an abnormal response of the immune system. The disease normally gets better on its own, but can have serious complications leading to internal bleeding and Kidney damage.

    My son James had it for six months and you took care of him the whole time for which I am indebted to you for. Almost every week we had to call you out all hours of the night, for him to be hospitalised, because the blood vessels in his stomach were bursting and he was suffering so much pain. Your care and expertise saved his life. Although I found it so hard at the time, your patience and the time you spent with us eventually convinced me my son would be ok and kept me sane enabling me to care for him better. 

    He had six months off school and finally recovered, I would just add he now has a top managerial job in one of Suffolk’s main utility companies. So may after all these years I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your care and wish you well in your retirement.

    By Gloria Sewell (29/01/2012)
  • How lovely to hear from “Doc Cav” My sister Beryl Cole and her family were your patients. One of my favourite memories is of when Dad and I stayed with Beryl and Peter one Christmas. By lunch time it was obvious that Dad (in his seventies) was going down with bronchitus and Christopher (2) had bad tonsillitus. We didn’t like to send for a doctor but felt we had to. Doc Cav duly arrived, and after explaining the problems my sister took him upstairs and left him with the invalids. Half an hour or more passed, but the doc didnt leave. In the end my sister went up to find Doc Cav sitting on the floor between the beds playing with Christophers new car transporter. Beryl said “Oh Chris, you shouldnt keep the doctor playing, he has his own family to play with” Doc Cav replied “But I’ve got girls and I have run out of games with dolls!”

    By Mary Cole nee Norman (28/01/2012)
  • Hey, glad to see your still about, you looked after 3 generations of the Steward Family, my mum and dad, Les and Sheila, together with me and my siblings, Trevor Carol and Ronnie. Followed by my kids, Ricci, Dale, Jodie, Gavin, Hal and Tamsin! 

    My wife Wendy and I, along with my brother Ronnie, worked with your Monika at Yardley’s, around 1987! Give her our regards. Thank you for all you did.

    By Terry Steward (24/11/2011)

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