Working from home the Doctor's House as a Workplace

Working from home is not a new phenomenon. The majority of general practitioners did so in the pre-NHS and early NHS days. This is just a reflection of my early days in one Dundee practice from 1964 where the senior partner and house owner had only recently moved to separate accommodation but a caretaker and family was in residence in the house.

I had known 79 Albert Street, Dundee, the home of Dr and Mrs W.E.A Buchanan all my days and had often been present in the house when it underwent a daily metamorphosis for home to home and surgery, the surgery occupying two consulting rooms built out at the back of the house but entered through the main door and the dining room became the waiting room. As a medical student, I often went to the upstairs study on a Friday evening to study and sometimes be invited downstairs to 'sit-in' on consultations. This was revolutionary in the 1950's! After the evening surgery was finished, the dining room would reappear and the Buchanan family would sit down to supper, prepared by the maids under Mrs Buchanan's supervision.

It was assumed that I would join the practice after graduation and hospital jobs by the time I did, Dr Buchanan snr. had died and the practice was carried on by his son, also Dr. W.E.A Buchanan and Dr. Ian Sutherland.. This was fine as the two consulting rooms were available but the arrival of a third created logistical problems. Previously Drs Buchanan snr. and jnr. had, I think, alternated their use of one of the consulting rooms. It curtained off and a desk and two chairs with a small rug (luxury) were provided for my use. I had no examination couch and if I needed to examine a patient in the horizontal, I had to wait until a consultation ended in one of the two rooms and turf their partner out while I got on with the examination. The patient and I then returned to the kitchen.

Unlike some practices even in those far off days, we had no ancillary staff. There was no receptionist and patients queued outside until the door was opened at 13.30 for the 14.00 surgery, the same happening at 17.00 for the 17.30 session. Patient participation in those days amounted to keeping themselves in the correct feeding order for the three doctors consulting. Many were the fracas when someone stepped out of line or advanced for the wrong doctor - as we each rang a bell to summon the next patient. The problem was all the bells sounded the same.

Record keeping was done in one's head and perhaps later added to the NHS notes which were held in a cupboard. Filing off letters took place when the stack of incoming mail gently fell over from the senior partner's desk onto the writing area and the floor. This usually happened on a Saturday evening when one was rather keen to get home after surgery to see if one still had a wife. Those were the days.


Submitted by J.F.McKellican