21 Years of Skelton Health Surgeries

by Dr Roger Neville-Smith

I have been working at Skelton for the past 21 years and can still remember Dr Stevenson who, at that time, was almost fully retired but still had one surgery each week for his “old faithfuls”. He had held his surgery for many years at his residence, York House, South Terrace, Skelton where he remained the senior partner for a long reign. Many doctors (maybe as many as 15) had joined and left. Dr Rooney, one of his partners had a house and surgery at Ardmore House, Skelton Green during this time.

When Dr John Frood joined the practice in 1972 he replaced Dr Whitefield and worked with Drs Stephenson and Beckwith. Until premises were found in the High Street in Skelton, patients would often be found queuing down the path at York House, waiting for the surgery to be declared open.

Tragically Dr Beckwith died in an aeroplane crash in 1973. Since then a large number of doctors have joined and several left the practice. Dr Richard Parkin, now the senior partner, was the first to join after Dr Frood followed by Dr Ian Guy, Dr Hyla Holden and myself in 1979.

Surgeries ran at 57 High Street, Skelton as well as the Health Authority Clinic at Lingdale. Transient surgeries ran from the Plough in Moorsholm and a private house in Child Street, Brotton above the “high wall”. As well as surgeries there were two “call houses”, one in Boosbeck and the other in Richard Street, North Skelton. Although patients would not usually be seen there messages were deposited and collected. The number of private telephones and cars were very limited in the 1970’s.

In 1973 Skelton Health Centre was built with much greater facilities and space for the nurses and health visitors to have offices and clinics. Gradually, the need for the “call houses” dwindled and the Brotton surgery attracted very few patients; by 1976 they were closed. The surgeries at Lingdale and Moorsholm continued although the pub has given way to the Village Hall. Any latecomers would previously have had their consultation alongside the first customers arriving at opening time. The records had to be transported from the High Street to the Health Centre and a farmer’s cart was used for the purpose. Unfortunately the weather was wet and windy and several sets of records took to flying off into the muddy field (which later was developed below the Health Centre). I am told that all the flotsam was found and restored to its rightful place!

Shortly after establishing the surgery at the Health Centre revolutionary communication systems were introduced. A pager, weighing about 8 ounces, was carried by the doctor on call and every car had a two way radio connected to Autocall (later Cleveland Health Call). No longer would the doctor return from one call to find he had to return to almost the same place to see another patient. The radios were eventually replaced by the first cellular phone available; this state of the art technology was the size and weight of half a car battery. As the modern small phones became available the ‘black bricks’ were ‘mothballed’.

Dispensing medicines has changed a lot over the years since Dr Stevenson’s time. He had a full dispensary at York House but when the surgery moved to the High Street and then the Health Centre, dispensing was only required for those living more than one mile from the nearest pharmacy. Moorsholm continued to be supplied for a few years and Lingdale still has a limited stock for patients of the relevant villages.

Phase Two of the Health Centre included a pharmacy (Kingston’s) run by Les Gorman, and more room was available for consulting with extra space for the health visitors, community psychiatric nurse and social worker. Over the years many doctors have joined and left. Dr Ian Guy left to work as a curate, being replaced by Dr Mike Betterton. Since then we have seen the arrival of Kate Harvie, Marjorie Baillie, Margaret Bottery, Guy Baker, Neil Brownlee, Peter Lavelle, Allison Armitage and most recently Jesus Gonzalez-Castro. Dr Baillie left to take up psychiatry, Dr Bottery moved away with her husband, Dr Holden retired only to work as a psychiatrist locally, Dr Baker went abroad to Papua New Guinea and Dr Frood left to work for the NHS trust responsible for the community hospitals, psychiatry and the community services including district nurses. Among the permanent positions there have also been many temporary locum doctors, trainees (now called GP registrars) and medical students. Patients have coped very well with all these changes but may well have benefited from a “who’s who” guide to new faces at Skelton.

Out of hours medical care is now run from East Cleveland Hospital and is shared by the doctors from Skelton, Brotton and Loftus. Prior to this each practice took its own out of hours work. On occasions this was very difficult: in 1978 the winter was very severe and Dr Frood remembers making house calls by tractor which also had to be used to help the nurses. In Dr Stevenson’s time alliances operated between doctors in Saltburn, Guisborough and Skelton, sharing holiday cover and out of hours. Cleveland Cottage Hospital (previously the Miners’ Hospital) had beds for GP patients and a minor accident department; cover for this was provided by a practice in Saltburn (Costello and Constable), and the current Skelton, Brotton and Loftus practices. Old Cleveland Cottage Hospital has now been replaced by the palatial East Cleveland Hospital with much expanded services including elderly care and psychiatry.

So much has changed in our area. Employment has changed totally since the closure of the mines and also in the mid 1970s when many large employers in Teesside shed thousands of jobs. During my time I have seen real improvements in health, particularly with respect to children’s infectious illness and the longevity of our elderly population. Residential homes have been created at Kiltondale and the White House (previously Dr Cawley’s house and surgery) in Brotton, Castlecourt in Boosbeck (previously the village school), Manor Court in Moorsholm (previously the village school), and Ardmore in Skelton Green (previously the house and surgery for Dr Rooney).

Record keeping has changed hugely in the past 20 years. The original folders introduced at the beginning of the NHS, the so called Lloyd George folder, has been phased out. At first this was replaced by a larger A4 folder and now this is being replaced by computer based records. Similar changes have taken place for ordering prescriptions; again patients have coped very well with all these changes although at times have found it puzzling to understand - why more change?

Changes continue at an ever increasing pace as health needs change and government departments decide where our priorities must lie. People will get poorly, injured and depressed and hopefully the service that we provide at Skelton will continue to help those in need. Allowing the doctors to do their work smoothly and effectively is a dedicated and committed team of staff who have been able to adapt continuously to all ways of practising. The nurses, health visitors, midwives, and many others are there to work with all of us as a team and this team, I think, continues to be robust and happy. I know that the majority of the patients that we see are keen to help us help them.

Much of the information that relates to the time before 1979 has been supplied by Dr Frood and I am very grateful to him for this. Finally, it is likely that some of the facts are inaccurate and I am grateful to the readers who may correct and add to this article

Dr Roger Neville-Smith


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