The Peak District would seem the perfect patch for a GP – a rural idyll where the pace of life is a little less pressured.
But in reality, countryside practices present their own tough challenges, as well as facing just the same issues as city surgeries.
Dr Louise Jordan’s practice, Baslow Health Centre, prides itself on keeping patients to stay at home rather then sending them to hospital, but staff there are under more strain than ever.
The number of doctors’ visits per patient is on the increase, and the Peaks has one of the highest proportions of elderly patients in England. Many of these older patients have chronic conditions which require constant monitoring.
So to illustrate the difficulties faced in Baslow, Dr Jordan and her fellow medics agreed to be filmed for a new, two-part television programme, called The Real Peak Practice.
The show’s production team spent a year following the health centre’s doctors, nurses and patients, capturing everyday struggles as well as appointments with some familiar local patients, including Lord Roy Hattersley, who lives in Great Longstone and visited Dr Jordan after falling outside the House of Lords.
A visit is also paid to the bedside of Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, shortly before she died last September, while narration comes fromSheffield-born actor Dominic West who grew up in Grindleford.
The practice was approached 18 months ago to take part in the documentary. Being shadowed by the crew initially felt ‘unusual’, but soon became second nature, said Dr Jordan.
“As a rural practice it’s important for us to know all our patients and really give them bespoke care. Some people say that’s a luxury, but we’re determined to carry on doing it.”
Baslow Health Centre has 4,500 patients on its books – a figure which is on the small side for a rural practice, Dr Jordan admits. But conversely, its five-mile catchment area is ‘quite challenging at times’.
Patients’ lifestyles range from extreme wealth to ‘rural deprivation’.
“It’s not unknown to go out to farms where the doctor will need to walk across three fields, open the gates and find someone’s home doesn’t have mains electricity,” she said.
“But we have to be careful to respect people’s way of life. If you take people out of their environment to a modern, brand-spanking new nursing home they might not last very long at all.”
The practice’s well-known patients receive just the same attention as anyone else needing treatment.
“We gave 100 per cent to the dowager duchess, respected her privacy and created a very bespoke package of care for her to stay in her own home,” said Dr Jordan.
Another surprise is the difficulty Baslow faces in recruiting a third GP partner. “Young doctors don’t want to come into partnership. They don’t want the financial risk and think it’s a burdensome commitment. We’ve got practices around here actually closing because they can’t recruit. It’s quite daunting for the future – I don’t think there’s going to be a quick fix.”
A GP for 30 years, Dr Jordan moved to Baslow two decades ago after working in Northumbria.
The 53-year-old, who has two grown-up sons, was a founding trustee of the Helen’s Trust charity, which helps terminally ill people. Dominic West’s mother was looked after by the good cause before she died, and – to Dr Jordan’s surprise – following her death the dowager duchess chose the charity as one of two organisations to receive donations in lieu of flowers in her memory.
In the programme the doctor speaks movingly about caring for her husband of 26 years, Nigel, who died at home of a brain tumour in 2011 aged 51.
Dr Jordan said that, when she left medical school, she believed her role was simply to cure people – but now her view has shifted. “The long game, I now realise is, that I’m there to be on people’s journey and that’s very powerful if you can support people. I’ve been very lucky, I think, to be a partner in Baslow.”
The programme’s executive producer, Sally Bowman, said: “Working on the Real Peak Practice has been a humbling experience. The team are so dedicated to their patients and determined to do their best in sometimes very difficult circumstances.
“We know that 90 per cent of patient contacts with the NHS are through their family doctor but television tends to concentrate on the dramas of A&E. Over the past year I’ve learned there is just as much drama behind the scenes of primary care and just as many unsung heroes too.”
The second episode of the Real Peak Practice is broadcast tomorrow on BBC One Yorkshire at 7pm. The first episode is on BBC iPlayer.