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It’s like being part of the family, says GP
A GERIATRICIAN friend once told Dr Peter Swinyard: “The difference between us is that I see the same diseases with different patients and you see the same patients with different diseases.”
Dr Swinyard quotes the comment when asked why he chose general practice, although there were other reasons as well.
“I don’t take kindly to people telling me what to do,” he said. “I would never be the sort of personality that would do well in the military, where you’re told to jump and you say, ‘How high, sir?’ “Normally I can find an alternative to jumping or find a way of doing things where jumping isn’t even necessary.
“I didn’t like the sort of ethos where you have to do your bit of research, get published and you get a consultancy.
“What I liked then and what I like 30 years on is looking after a large group of patients in a longitudinal fashion over a long period of years.
“I have been around long enough that I am looking after people having their first baby and I remember them as a lump inside their mum. It’s a great privilege. You’re almost an external part of the family. I have known a lot of people very well for a very long time.”
Dr Swinyard was born in Wandsworth. His mother was a music teacher who now lives in Highworth. His late father was a company secretary and corporate accountant who was brought in to run The Merchant Seaman’s War Memorial Society, a welfare charity.
The future Dr Swinyard did much of his growing up at one of the charity’s facilities for former sailors, a farm in Surrey.
He learned to drive at 11 in an Austin Seven bought by his father for £10.
“My father was a very vocational type,” Dr Swinyard recalled.
“He never made any money – he was always grossly underpaid.
“He was running a million pound business and paid £1,000 per year.”
Dr Swinyard was educated at Tonbridge, an independent school in Kent, where he met a fascinating set of characters, such as the master who managed to transport an entire cricket team in his Daimler, including four in the boot.
Then there was the Aberdonian music teacher who asked his pupil, already an accomplished pianist and cellist, to play the tuba in the school orchestra.
When the future doctor pointed out that he couldn’t play the tuba, the master replied: “Oh, we’ll sort that out – we’ll give you 12 free lessons so you know how to do it. It’s just that we need somebody big enough to carry it.”
Dr Swinyard first thought his future might lie in music or “something with cars”, but had no strong ambitions until his parents took him to a specialist careers advice service in London.
“They asked had I thought about medicine. They said, ‘You have an interest in sciences but you’ll never make in pure science because you’re not that fascinated by it.’”
His medical training began at St Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1974, and he gained further training and experiences in locations as diverse as Welwyn Garden City and Colchester.
Dr Swinyard arrived in Swindon on January 31, 1985, began practising as a GP the following day and has been here ever since.
He has seen plenty of changes over the years, some good and some bad.
The good ones include the increased survivability of many medical crises.
“If somebody had a heart attack in 1985, we would be the people to rush out to them. We would assess them, perhaps give a shot of morphine and then arrange for them to go into hospital with an ambulance service which was effectively just a glorified bus.
“Nowadays there are paramedics who effectively have a transportable hospital. They do wonders. If I have a heart attack I want a paramedic and not a GP.”
On the downside, he believes doctors are obliged to spend too much time filling in details on computers and attending to targets set by Whitehall – time they would otherwise be able to spend with patients.
Cost cutting is also a problem, one he’s never been afraid to speak out about.
He refers to computer time as ‘feeding the beast’.
“I think it’s the duty of doctors as a whole to do our best with the resources we have, but also to say when the resources don’t meet the need.”