HEALTHY LIVING: Sheffield GP charts changes at practice with history

Dr Jenny Stephenson with her book
Dr Jenny Stephenson with her book
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The future of the NHS is a matter of constant debate, with pressures on funding and rising numbers of patients making the state of the health service a huge social and political issue.

Now a Sheffield GP has taken the chance to look back over the way things have changed over the last 144 years - as well as asserting her belief that the NHS can survive.

Dr Jenny Stephenson has traced the history of Walkley House Medical Centre - where she has been based since 1985 - and its relatively new branch surgery at Stannington.

The result is a book of the stories and memories of her patients, colleagues and staff.

Whatever the challenge - cholera, influenza, smallpox, World Wars, or numerous NHS reorganisations - the practice and the health service have survived, and Jenny believes their future can be assured with similar flexibility and adaptation.

She has seen many changes first hand, but turned to patients, staff and partners as she dug much deeper.

Jenny said: “I had a wonderful response from patients, and I got to know how to do historical research and made some good contacts and friends in historical societies.

“It has taken me four years to get all the information and to start to write the framework. I took a sabbatical of four weeks to write it up.”

A stroke of luck came when a notice at the surgery about the research was spotted by the grandson of Walkley House’s founding doctor, Denis Connolly, who was in Sheffield to visit his son at university.

He told his father, John, in Southern Ireland, who was able to give vital information.

Social and political background and medical advances, such as antibiotics, are reflected in the book.

Walkley House, built in 1870, has always been in the hands of doctors. Initially they practised on their own, but were soon joined by others for a wider, more efficient service.

The Stannington practice started in the early 1950s in Stanwood Avenue, moved to Fairbarn Drive and from 1970s has been in Uppergate Road, redeveloped in 1996.

These days, family doctors are having to meet the demands of an ageing population, the need for investment and national difficulties in recruiting GPs.

“Patients still need good quality medical care from somebody they know and have built a relationship with,” says Jenny.

In her introduction to the book, the doctor says she felt ‘compelled’ to put the work together.

“I have made comparisons with our present, and am looking towards the future. The thread running through it all is that of a committed personal care given to local people and their families, which in turn has been much appreciated and so remembered over the years.

“The present large scale and far-reaching changes in the NHS impact on general practice in such a way that I feel this individual care may be more difficult to achieve and so be under threat. We need to be aware of this in order to prevent it from happening.”

Jenny also writes of the ‘great privilege’ of being a GP.

“We are invited to share part of our patients’ lives on a long-term basis, seeing their children through from birth to adulthood, being with them in their aspirations, their struggles and their achievements, being there to support in times of difficulty and distress.

“This is well illustrated by the earlier GPs who set up their business in Walkley House and served the local community in this way.”

n The History of Walkley House Medical Centre - priced £12 - is available at the Walkley and Stannington centres, Stannington Library, The Famous Sheffield Shop, The Star shop on York Street and, soon, Waterstones. Proceeds to Diabetes UK, Alzheimer’s Society and Stannington Library.