Pride of ‘temp’ who kept healthcare in the family for almost 42 years

Bryony Pratt who is retiring as a doctors' receptionist after almost 42 years working at the surgery in Norton.

Bryony Pratt who is retiring as a doctors’ receptionist after almost 42 years working at the surgery in Norton.

When Bryony Glass began work as a receptionist at the doctors’ surgery in Norton it was intended to be a temporary position.

Almost 42 years later Bryony Pratt, as she is now, is due to retire on Thursday – bringing an end to her family’s 100 year connection with health care in North Staffordshire.

When her father, Charles John Glass, was born in Smallthorne in 1915 her grandfather Charles Stanley Glass – originally from Scotland – was already an established GP in Norton.

It was her dad who, in March 1971, persuaded her to cover as a receptionist at the surgery.

He was a GP partner and his daughter was in-between jobs and aged 21 at the time.

Bryony recalls: “They were a bit short-staffed due to illness and so my father asked if I would like to help out.

“I absolutely loved it. I loved interacting with people.

“I am a Nortonian born and bred and the patients were people I had grown up with. I just fell into the job very naturally.”

A few months later tragedy struck, however, when her father passed away suddenly at the age of just 55.

Bryony said: “It was just assumed that I would carry on and so I did.

“At the time there were only two of us – the surgery manager and myself.

“We had just one telephone and there were no appointments.

“If people were ill they would turn up at the surgery and ask if they could see one of the doctors. There were four when I started.

“Of course, many people didn’t even have telephone and so would go to the home of the nearest person who had one or even go to a shop where there was a phone.”

Things have changed an awful lot since Bryony greeted her first patients back in the early Seventies but her commitment to the job has been unwavering.

She still almost always walks the 40 or so minutes from her home in Clay Lake which she shares with her husband Colin to the surgery in Station Road, Norton.

Bryony said: ”There have been many changes over the years – such as switching from paper records to computers in the mid-Eighties. There are now more doctors, we have an additional sister surgery in Endon and the number of people working for us has grown to 10 receptionists and seven other staff.

“We have practice nurses on site who do a lot of things that GPs like my father used to do and we now operate a triage system. We are also a lot busier these days because the population has grown and patients’ expectations are far greater than they used to be.

“There was a time when people were happy to take a doctor’s opinion and advice. Nowadays people are better informed and want to go away with something.

“The doctors themselves do far fewer house calls these days because many people have vehicles and are able to get to the surgery via public transport.

“The advent of the out-of-hours system, which means doctors are no longer on call 24 hours a day has also changed things dramatically.

“I remember my father was constantly in and out of bed. In fact, he used to make house calls in his pyjamas and sleep in his coat because we didn’t have central heating back then – nobody did.”

What shines through from meeting Bryony is her passion for not only the job but, more so, the people whose lives she has touched over four decades.

She said: “There are patients who came in for their school injections at the age of five or so who are now in their mid to late forties and have grandchildren.

“They have quite literally grown up with me and it has been a real privilege to be a part of their lives for so long.

“I’m very proud of my family’s service to the health profession and the people of Norton and the surrounding areas.

“When my father passed away I felt he was still with me and that I was carrying on in the family tradition.”

Bryony hasn’t even retired yet and already she’s received 23 cards, flowers and chocolates from grateful patients who will miss her dearly when she’s not there.

She said: “It makes me very emotional. You can’t help but be because this job requires a very personal touch. Over time you develop friendships. People confide in you. Trust you. Rely on you to make decisions in their best interests.

“It is not always easy but I like to be at the sharp end and I have never lost sight of the fact that my priority is the patients: the people who come through those doors.”

She added: “I just want to say a huge thank you to all the people who have let me into their lives over the years. It has been a genuine privilege and I will miss them all.”

But won’t she be bored after Thursday?

Bryony laughed. “Have you seen the size of our garden? I also like to walk. I do about 20 miles a week. I also enjoy swimming which I never seem to have the time to do but I perhaps will now.”

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Fewer home visits but a lot more bureaucracy for Dr Golik

The gypsy knew, of course. Paul Golik doesn’t know how the old lady knew but she correctly predicted that the young lad at the door of the house in Cannock would grow up to become a doctor.

Paul recalls: “I would have been quite young at the time and this lady was calling at houses, selling pegs and the like, and she told my mum I’d grow up to be a doctor.

“Of course, my mum just laughed it off. We were just your average working class family and, at the time, I’d showed no indication that I was destined for a career in medicine.”

But the gypsy was spot on and 50-odd years later Paul is now one of the longest-serving and most respected family doctors in Stoke-on-Trent.

Never one for the arts subjects, after leaving school he took chemistry, physics and biology at A-Level before moving on to study at Birmingham University.

He said: “Once you go down that route I guess you are only ever going to work in medicine or science.”

The year was 1975 and, having graduated at the age of 23, Paul began his training as a doctor.

Back then this involved spending two years in hospitals – in his case the old Royal Infirmary, as it was, up at Hartshill, and in Coventry.

He also spent a year training as a GP – working for a time with Dr Hugh Thomson in Trent Vale.

Paul remembers his first few months of meeting patients.

He said: “Of course you are a bit nervous but you just cope with it.

“Back then patient records were nowhere near as detailed as they are now. They were a bit of a nightmare, to be honest. They were kept in a Lloyd George envelope and were very messy and confused. You were lucky if they were in any sort of order.

“Prescriptions were taken down by receptionists at the time before repeat prescription cards came out.

“I suppose patient’s expectations weren’t as great as they are these days – and neither were doctors’ for that matter – which meant that in some ways the job was easier.”

On September 1, 1978, Paul joined the practice he has now been with for more than 34 years and which he now heads up.

Back then the surgery at Norton had just two consulting rooms. Nowadays there are seven at Norton and a further three at Endon – along with a bungalow which the practice has acquired for administrative purposes.

Paul said: “The basic kit a GP used in, let’s say, the early 1980s hasn’t really changed a great deal in 30 years.

“Things like the blood pressure monitor and the stethoscope still work on the same principles but some of the gear we have now is electronic instead.

“The biggest change is the way in which IT has transformed the NHS.

“From patient records to booking appointments – it is all much better organised that it used to be.

“In terms of the job itself, the hours are very similar but we did an awful lot more house calls at the start of my career. It wouldn’t have been unusual for a GP to make 20 home visits in a day whereas these days we make hardly any.

“This is because elderly people are generally much more mobile these days, more people have access to transport and we rarely visit poorly children in the home.

“It is, of course, much better to examine people in your surgery where the light is good and you have a proper couch rather than in their homes on sofas or in beds.”

Paul, who stepped down as secretary of North Staffordshire’s Local Medical Committee earlier this year, reckons the biggest problem doctors face in the modern era is bureaucracy.

He said: “These days I generally finish work around 6pm, rather than 7pm as it was, but sadly I spend a lot more time doing administrative work than I used to.

“For example, yesterday I visited a care home to give flu jabs to all the elderly residents. It will take me more time to update their records on the computer this afternoon than it did to actually administer the injections which seems a bit crazy.

“I’d say bureaucracy is a real issue. Like other professions GPs are now having to have appraisals – where another doctor checks that you’re doing a decent job. I can understand the thinking behind such things but you can’t help but feel that a lot of the red tape just takes you away from the real job of treating patients.”

Finally, I ask Paul how he spends his spare time.

The 60-year-old, who lives at Stanley, said: “I go to the gym and enjoy walking. I keep convincing myself I’m not old enough to play golf just yet.”

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia