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Emergency room

Medical crises are supposed to play out in A&E. But the one to watch just now is taking place in the surgery of your family doctor

Emergency room

Medical crises are supposed to play out in A&E. But the one to watch just now is taking place in the surgery of your family doctor

Mike Hardman was the only GP seeing patients on the day that Prospect met him at his surgery in the small Yorkshire town of Bridlington. The “locum,” as medics call freelance stand-ins, had called in sick. Hardman’s fellow doctors were on holiday or not on duty.

Based in an unremarkable 1970s brick building, not far from the train station, the practice has just three part-time GPs, where once there were at least four full-time doctors. Yet despite being over-stretched, Hardman no longer advertises positions: he has learned the hard way that GPs don’t want to come and work in Bridlington. The town of 35,000 people is one of the areas identified as “really struggling” in an interim review on general practice partnership. That review was published in October, after former health secretary Jeremy Hunt commissioned Nigel Watson, a GP and chief executive of Wessex Local Medical Committees, in effective acknowledgement of a mounting crisis in surgeries. The full report is due by the end of the year, but Watson’s interim findings do not disguise the problems: declining numbers as well as “low morale, increased levels of stress, mental health problems and burnout, working days getting longer and the complexity and intensity of work increasing.”

Bridlington is a coastal town, and the British seaside has more than its share of social problems. The bucket-and-spade economy is deep in decline, and there is no draw for younger people. Schools are often poor, and mental illness common; in a muchadmired article on Blackpool last year, the FT’s Sarah O’Connor highlighted how GPs would discuss the ailments of their patients in terms of “SLS”—or shit life syndrome.

Bridlington is a quieter place than Blackpool, and the population is especially elderly: almost a third of residents are over 65. In that sense, it is ahead of an aging country. Many are drawn to retire here by memories of family holidays in the 1970s. It was thriving then, but today it includes some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England, with commensurately increased rates of physical diseases such as lung cancer.

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In Prospect’s December issue: Timothy Garton Ash and David Allen Green assess Brexit and ask whether it’s too late for things to change. Garton Ash explains how Brexit is just one part of a fracturing Europe and that it might not be too late for the UK’s situation—or that of the rest of Europe—to change. Green takes apart the “shambolic” way that Britain has approached Brexit and suggests a number of options that parliament should strongly consider if minister are to change their views. Elsewhere in the issue: Jo Glanville visits a rural GP surgery and exposes the crises that are played out day-in-day-out all over the country. Stephen Phelan suggests that Spain’s decision to exhume General Franco’s remains threatens to disturb more than his bones. Martin Rees writes about our dreams of understanding the entire universe—and how we may never be able to satisfy that desire.