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A Significant Medical History

His father John was in general practice, and Robbie’s daughter Fiona (39) is following in the family tradition, in fact they worked together in Robbie’s former Springburn practice. Robbie (68) remembers taking calls from patients as a youngster for his father, who was a GP in Dennistoun. The surgery was in a tenement in the Gallowgate and there was no appointment system, patients simply turned up. Robbie’s father and stepmother, also a GP, were on call 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.

At that time GPs were hesitant to organise a rota system, this was because their incomes depended on the number of patients they had and they feared that some would be headhunted by colleagues! Home confinements were common and Mr Robertson senior, who had experience in chest complaints, saw many TB patients.

Robbie said: “Going on holiday was a nightmare unless my father could find a good locum. If he and my stepmother went out for a meal and a call came in, I had to telephone the restaurant. My father would leave to visit the patient or if it wasn’t urgent he would call in on the way home. It was a hard life, but they both just accepted it and my father had a great relationship with his patients.”

Despite his father’s advice, Robbie went into general practice in 1966, which coincided with the “Doctors’ Charter” and changes in contracts for the first time since 1948.

“Doctors were rebelling about hours and pay,” remembers Robbie.

He practised first in Bishopbriggs and then in Springburn, where the practice included two part-time women GPs. By this time contracts included payments for services, reducing the dependence on patient numbers and, thanks to the Doctors’ Charter, an out-of-hours allowance had been introduced.

In 1982, Robbie moved into Springburn Health Centre and he and other doctors covering that area, including Townhead and Easterhouse, formed their own version of the Doctors’ Deputising Service. It was called the North East Deputising Service, or NEDS! Many on-call visits were to children and Robbie was initially puzzled when as soon as he entered the home, the father would leave. Then he learned that this was to stand guard over the doctor’s car to stop it being vandalised!

Poverty hit Springburn hard when the railway depot closed and the impact on health was reflected in low uptakes for immunisation and other screening services.

In 1998, the 50th anniversary of the NHS, Robbie was awarded the MBE following a campaign by a patient.

“If you put a lot into the practice you get not only recognised, but appreciated and you get the patients you deserve! I’m very proud of my MBE because it came from the patients.”

His daughter Fiona is currently working as a locum in Fife and thoroughly enjoying her choice of career as, like her father, she is a people person. Increasing numbers of women are becoming GPs and they currently make up the majority of students Robbie lectures to. He believes that because of family commitments, they will influence how the service is delivered with increasing numbers of job-share arrangements.

While Robbie has concerns about targets making general practice too business-like and the influence of the private sector, if he had an opportunity to repeat his career, he would do the same again.

“You need a sense of humour to be a GP, and I enjoyed my time in the East End of Glasgow.”

Now he is passing on his expertise and experience through lecturing to the next generation of GPs.


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Retired GP Robbie Robertson MBE