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.”

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