The Daily Telegraph

Doctor who revolution­ised the training of general practition­ers

- John Walker

JOHN WALKER, who has died aged 93, was Professor of General Practice, Family and Community Medicine at the University of Newcastle; like many of his era he was stung by the remarks of Churchill’s doctor, Lord Moran, who said general practice was where those who fell off the consultant ladder landed. He was determined to improve this image.

In the early 1960s a survey of medical schools had shown that there was very little, if any, structured teaching. The impression was that general practice was an afterthoug­ht in which students in their final year had very short attachment­s in an unstructur­ed and unsupervis­ed way, where they were shown something of the peculiarit­ies of general practice with little participat­ion by staff of the medical school.

In 1964, as part of a new integrated experiment in medical education, all students in Newcastle were exposed to family and community medicine soon after their arrival in medical school. A group of enthusiast­ic local GPS were recruited and all students had regular visits to GP surgeries.

They were also given a family project in which they were introduced to a pregnant mother whom they had to follow for two years. They were expected to discuss the baby with the GP and health visitors. This was hugely popular at a time when most medical schools were following a traditiona­l curriculum of only basic sciences for the first two years with no clinical contact.

By 1967 the General Medical Council had recommende­d that all medical students should follow a similar model with early clinical exposure to patients. This depended on a strong partnershi­p between the university department and a select group of GPS, and John Walker was instrument­al in its success.

There was also concern about the postgradua­te training of GPS. Those going on to be consultant­s had a well organised training programme, including exams, but those going into general practice could spend one year in hospital posts and go straight into practice with no further training for the next 40 years.

The idea of structured training for GPS emerged in the northern region, and

this came under the auspices of the newly formed Royal College of General Practition­ers. Walker was at the heart of organising examinatio­ns for GPS and for many years was chairman of the RCGP exams committee.

Initially exams were optional, but they were soon mandatory. The public today can expect a GP who is properly trained and up to date, and Walker was at the root of these developmen­ts.

John Hilton Walker was born in Newcastle on April 28 1928 to Arthur, a pharmacist in the Co-op, and Effie, a teacher. He started his education at Heaton Grammar School and was evacuated to Whitehaven during the war, after which his parents bought a chemist’s shop in Allendale, at the foot of the north Pennines.

He finished his education at Alston Grammar School, even higher in the Pennines. The family embraced Allendale life, and it was there that he met his future wife, June. After National Service in the Navy, largely based in Scotland, he studied Medicine at Durham, graduating in 1954.

He became a trainee GP in Rothbury with Dr Rex Armstrong, grandfathe­r of the broadcaste­r Alexander Armstrong. Between 1959 and 1963 he was a lecturer in General Practice in Edinburgh and returned to Newcastle to found the Department of Family and Community Medicine. He was a popular teacher of medical students and of trainee GPS.

Walker had numerous interests including skiing, vintage cars, musical theatre and jazz, and was known to have a song for every occasion. He was always cheerful, immaculate­ly dressed with a genuine interest in everyone he met. He is survived by June, his wife of 64 years, and their three daughters.

John Walker, born April 28 1928, died July 4 2021

 ??  ?? Always immaculate­ly dressed
Always immaculate­ly dressed

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