Page last updated at 05:54 GMT, Monday, 30 June 2008 06:54 UK

'I told Beveridge the NHS was too hurried'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Dr Alan Merson talks about the early days of the NHS

Dr Alan Merson has worked as a GP in the NHS since its inception in 1948 - and 60 years later he is still there.

He is the first to admit, however, that he has never been its biggest fan.

He thought the introduction of the NHS was too hurried and that it has failed in many of its goals.

Dr Merson, believed to be the UK's longest serving GP, even wrote a letter to William Beveridge, whose 1942 report pre-empted the foundation of a free national health service.

I had one chap come in who had cut his finger and wanted a prescription for a piece of elastoplast
Dr Alan Merson

"I said 'in my opinion you are bringing it in too soon and neither the doctors nor the public have been educated in how to use it," Dr Merson said.

He said the teething period was very difficult, with some patients trying to take advantage of the free services.

"When it first started I had one chap come in who had cut his finger and wanted a prescription for a piece of elastoplast.

"Then I had another fellow ring up on the very first day and he told my staff 'I want the doctor to come at once - the kid is poorly'.

"My staff said I would come after surgery as I was in the middle of seeing patients. He said 'If he is not here in an hour I will report him. We are in charge now.'

Born 22 May 1922 at West Park House, Dewsbury
His father's clinic was in the house - so he was born at the surgery where he later worked
Worked before and after the foundation of the NHS in West Park House
Now working at Albion Street, where the surgery moved last year

"I apologised to the staff and went out to see him. The kid had a bit of tonsillitis. I gave him a prescription and then told him to find another doctor, because I didn't want him talking to my staff like that.

"But it settled down after that."

Dr Merson, aged 86, still feels that the NHS has never really fulfilled its potential.

"The NHS has never really got off the ground as such has it?" he said.

"The idea was originally when it first started that it would cost so many billions.

"The principle was that people were afraid to go to the doctor before because they could not afford it. Now they would all go and everyone's health would improve, so eventually it would cost less.

"But it never did, because, of course, advances in medicine have become so expensive."

NHS graphic
As the NHS turns 60, BBC News is giving it a health check. Watch out for reports, features and analysis on TV, radio and the web.

Dr Merson, who works three days a week, plans to retire from the practice his father set up in Dewsbury this August, but says he still hopes to do the odd locum shift.

"When I was in Spain I met this lady who was doing some medical work at 92 and I thought I can't let her beat me," he laughed.

He had originally been destined to be a Rolls Royce apprentice until his father bribed him to swap for medicine with the offer of a car to get to Leeds to study.

He joined the practice in April 1948, just a few months before the start of the NHS, and still remembers the old system where patients were charged for services.

"When somebody came to the surgery you saw them, made a diagnosis, decided what you were going to treat them with and you wrote all this down in a great big ledger.

"Then after the surgery you would go into the dispensary and make up the medicines. Wrap them in cartridge paper, seal them with sealing wax. After surgery the surgery boy used to come round on his bicycle and take the medicines out to the various houses.

"Then you would send a bill out at the end of the month.

"Some would pay and some wouldn't so we had a 'doctor man' who used to go round and collect the money."

Government pressure

Dr Merson says he has loved his career, but feels the NHS is now too heavily influenced by politicians.

Dr Alan Merson
Dr Merson had to join the university home guard

"The best thing about the NHS is that it is possible, in time, to have almost any surgical procedure or any medical procedure, diagnosis is a lot better now than it used to be, which is a good thing.

"But the bad thing is that doctors are becoming civil servants almost and government committees are telling you what to do.

"The politicians should leave well alone.

"I am quite happy to retire in one way because as far as I am concerned the government is destroying family doctors - they want everyone to go into big centres.

"I am not keen on these big practices - polyclinics - you go one day with a sore throat they will say 'you had better see doctor so-and-so, he is a throat man'.

"Then the next time you go with a pain in your knee you are told 'you had better see doctor so-and-so, he is the arthritis man.

"You are not going to get what I call 'continuation of treatment' with one fellow - but maybe I am wrong."

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