DELIVERED AT JULIAN HART’S FUNERAL — JUNE 16th 2018

 

Julian and I were chatting once about heaven and hell, as you do. He didn’t believe in either, but supposing he was wrong, he thought he might be allowed into heaven, not as a believer, you understand, but for good behaviour.

Julian always wanted to be a doctor in a mining village, partly because his father had been a colliery doctor in Llanelli; partly it was the romance of mining practice as popularised in AJ Cronin ‘s novel The Citadel; but mainly it was the sort of community to which he wanted to belong.

And belong he did. As Gerald Davies, one of his patients, said in a BBC documentary , Julian wasn’t aloof like the other doctors, the headmaster and the colliery manager. He lived in the village and shared the common experience.

He wrote about it for medical students, “No one is a stranger; they are not only patients but fellow citizens. From many direct and indirect contacts, in schools, shops and gossip, I have come to understand how ignorant I would be if I knew them only as a doctor seeing them when they were ill.”

Julian loved his patients – not romantically, of course. The opposite of love in this context is indifference and Julian was never indifferent. He hated when bad things happened to his patients, especially when they could have been prevented. In his last 28 years at Glyncorrwg, there wasn’t a single death in women from cervical cancer.

In his book A New Kind of Doctor, he described a man, invalided out of the steel industry after a leg fracture, aged 42. With no further use for his big muscular body, he had become obese, had high blood pressure and cholesterol, got gout and was drinking too much. 25 years later, Julian described how, after 310 consultations and 41 hours of work, initially face to face, eventually side by side, the most satisfying and exciting things had been the events that had not happened: no strokes, no heart attacks, no complications of diabetes. He described this as the real stuff of primary medical care.

At a seminar in Glasgow, we asked Julian what happened next. The man had died, of something else, a late-onset cancer I think, but when Julian told us this, there was a tear in his eye. His patient had become his friend.

This was Dr ‘art, without an “H”, as known to his Glyncorrwg patients. None of this explains why Dr Julian Tudor Hart became the most famous general practitioner in the history of the NHS.

In 1961 with large numbers of very sick people, huge visiting lists and a nearby colliery that was still working, the Glyncorrwg practice was extremely busy. His initial base was a wooden hut. It took five years to reach a stable position.

He was the first doctor in the world to measure the blood pressures of all his patients. Famously, Charlie Dixon was the last man to take part, had the highest blood pressure in the village but was still alive 25 years later. Julian became an international authority on blood pressure control in general practice and wrote a book about it which went to three editions and was translated into several languages, with a companion book for patients.

What he did for patients with high blood pressure, he did for other patients, delivering unconditional, personalised continuity of care. After 25 years he showed that premature mortality was almost 30% lower than in a neighbouring village – the only evidence we have of what a general practitioner could achieve in a lifetime of practice.

It’s said that behind every great man there is an astonished woman. Behind Julian, was a great woman. When Deborah Perkin was planning her BBC documentary, the Good Doctor, (which we keep showing to medical students and young doctors), I said to her, there is something you have to understand. There’s two of them. Mary was his partner and anchor every step of the way.

Glyncorrwg was the first general practice in the UK to receive research funding from the Medical Research Council. Mary and Julian had both worked with Archie Cochrane and his team at the MRC Epidemiology Unit in Cardiff where they learned a democratic type of research in which everyone’s contribution was important and the study wasn’t complete until everyone had taken part. And so, in Glyncorrwg, there was the Shit Study, the Pee Study, the Salt Studies and the Rat Poison Study, all with astonishing high response rates.

Julian counted as a scientist anyone who measured or audited what they did and was honest with the results. Brecht’s The Life of Galileo was his favourite play and he often quoted Brecht’s line, “The figures compel us.” Julian didn’t pursue scientific knowledge for its own sake. His research always had the direct purpose of helping to improve people’s lives.

He had a talent for the telling phrase. His Inverse Care Law stated that the availability of good medical care tends to vary inversely with the need for it in the population served, or more simply, People without shoes are clearly the ones who need shoes the most.

When Sir Keith Joseph, a Conservative Secretary for Social Services, announced that
“Increased dental charges would give a financial incentive to patients to look after their teeth,” Julian commented, “The government has not yet raised the tax on coffins to reduce mortality, but Sir Keith is assured of a place in the history of preventive medicine.”

Julian’s friend and fellow GP, John Coope from Bollington in Lancashire, admired Julian’s nose for what mattered in the published literature. In his book The Political Economy of Health, that magpie tendency was on display, the footnotes comprising one third of the book and worth reading on their own. A Google search could never assemble such a mix. Goodness knows what readers made of it in the Chinese translation.

He lectured all over the world – in the US, Australia, Kazakhstan, Italy and Spain in particular. Julian could deliver formal lectures but for brilliance and exhilarating an audience he was at his best in impromptu, unscripted exchange.

When principles were at stake, Julian could argue until the cows came home. In his younger years he took no prisoners. A famous medical professor reflected that he had been called many things, but never a snail.

Dr Miriam Stoppard arrived in the village to interview Julian for her TV programme, determined to cast him in the role of a doctor who made life or death decisions concerning his patient’s access to renal dialysis and transplant. They battled for a whole afternoon, Stoppard trying to get Julian to say things on camera that fitted her script. He defied her, ending every sentence by mentioning how much dialysis and transplant surgery the cost of a single Trident missile could buy. She went away defeated and empty-handed.

I was surprised once at Paddington station to see him with a copy of the London Times. He was no fan of the Murdoch press. On boarding the 125 for South Wales, he laid out the newspaper as a tablecloth and over it spread a messy, aromatic Indian carry-out meal. If businessmen in their smart suits wanted to sit next to us, they were very welcome.

Standing for election to the Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Julian topped the poll. What he offered GPs was a credible image of themselves as important members of the medical profession – alongside specialists, not beneath them.

Julian was humble in himself but ambitious for his ideas. He accepted with ambivalence the honours and sentimental treatment that came with age but he never lost his edge, and if we are to celebrate his life it should be by holding to the principles he held dear.

The work of a general practitioner is immeasurably enhanced by working in, with and for a local community, for long enough to make a difference.

Everyone is important, the last person as important as the first, and the work isn’t done until everyone is on board.

Julian was the “worried doctor”, anticipating patients’ problems, not waiting for them to happen, and then avoiding them by joint endeavour.

Drawing on his reading of Marx, he saw health care as a form of production, producing not profits but social value, shared knowledge, confidence, the ability to live better with conditions, achieved not by the doctor alone but by doctors and patients working together. Patients were partners, not customers or consumers.

The NHS should never be a business to make money but a social institution based on mutuality and trust – the ultimate gift economy, getting what you need, giving what you can, a model for how society might run as a whole. In re-building society, co-operation would trump competition, not marginally, but as steam once surpassed horsepower. The Glyncorrwg research studies showed glimpses of that social power.

My daughter Nuala met Julian many times. Losing him as a person, she said, was like the Mackintosh Building at Glasgow School of Art, burning down. We lost someone dear, a big part of our lives, an institution, a one man “School of ‘Art”, full of life, light and creativity.

Julian’s gift to us today is not the example he worked out in the microcosm of a Welsh mining village over 25 years ago; it is the present challenge of how we follow and give practical expression to his values in local communities in the future. In honouring his memory, there is work for all of us do.

 

Professor Graham Watt
MD FRCGP FRSE FMedSci CBE
Emeritus Professor
General Practice and Primary Care
University of Glasgow

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2 Comments

  1. Vivien Walsh says:

    Brilliant. Thank you. I knew one of his patients once, a miner’s wife. And heard him speak in the SHA and read many of his political pamphlets.

  2. Tony Jewell says:

    Excellent article Graham. The link with Cochrane and the Cardiff based MRC unit for Julian and Mary is important as they both demonstrated the value of epidemiological research in a primary care setting with the rigour of critical review of evidence. What also guided their work was of course a clear socialist perspective of the NHS, the UK and wider world.

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